Buildings and Grounds shows environmental concern with Unified Science Center project

From the newly refurbished West and Wood dormitories to the continued construction of the Unified Science Center, construction is booming all over campus. Most of the efforts of Williams’ Buildings and Grounds (B&G) are readily apparent to the student body through the vast improvements in the overall ambiance and modernization of venerated college buildings. Yet most of the student body is not aware of the great effort Buildings and Grounds devotes to providing not only aesthetically pleasing and functional structures, but in many cases, the most environmentally conscious building feasible.

According to Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Environmental Studies Hank Art, Buildings and Grounds asked for input from the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee on how to address various ecological concerns both during construction and in the new building itself. This consultation took place in the introductory planning phase of construction of the Unified Science Center. It was recommended that B&G hire an expert electronics consultant to examine the various ways the Science Center can not only reduce regular maintenance costs, but also save energy.

Eric Beattie, the assistant director for construction services at Buildings and Grounds said planners took this advice, and through research of historical weather records for Williamstown in conjunction with the thermal properties of the building, discovered ways in which the science center could dramatically decrease the consumption of electricity and steam needed to heat the building during the winter. Their tactics included various innovations in window design and roof insulation.

“Science buildings are unique from, say, office buildings, in that they require the constant circulation of fresh air, rather than stale air,” said Eric Beattie, the assistant director for construction services at Buildings and Grounds. This necessary circulation of air causes a loss of heat, and therefore, requires quite a bit more energy. With the Unified Science Center, planners have tried to keep this in mind, while at the same time considering the negative effects of keeping the entire building ventilated even when many parts of it are not in use.

According to Beattie, the ventilation in the new Science Center will be under manual control so that it can be shut down in parts of the building that are not being used, while still preserving much needed ventilation in other parts of the same building. Bronfman’s primitive system had the same objective, only it was done with a time clock that controlled the whole building. This system was not always effective. The Unified Science Center, through its state of the art technology, promises to provide both a more effective means of controlling ventilation and savings on energy and heating costs.

Beattie said in addition to their concerns with energy consumption, Buildings and Grounds is also concerned with what effect the Science Center will have on Coal River. Altering topography of any kind can damage the environment. For example, putting a hard surface such as asphalt on land means that water cannot be soaked up in the soil. The water simply runs off into the nearby river, creating the potential danger of flooding. Consequently, Buildings and Grounds have installed a maximizer near the base of the Unified Science Center.

The maximizer is a state-of-the-art retention system which retains drainage runoff (such as rainwater) in a tank under the soil. Once the water is collected, the maximizer allows it to seep into the soil at a natural rate to prevent the flooding and disruption of the natural process that would have occurred had the maximizer not been utilized.

Besides making environmentally responsible decisions with structural considerations during the building process, Buildings and Grounds is also concerned with recycling on the construction site. Separate containers have been set up throughout the process to recycle such items as metal, cardboard, general debris, earthworks, masonry, and (in the future) asphalt and drywall.

John Bingham, the senior project manager for Gilbane, the contractor of the Unified Science Center, said that various materials, once collected at the site, are taken to be recycled in a local recycling operation.

During the initial phase of the project, debris gathered from earthworks, such as the topsoil, was taken to be reused on various local farms. General debris is taken to a landfill in Canaan, New York, where it can be put to better use. Metals are shipped out biweekly to be recycled. The metals are shipped to Shapiro in North Adams, where they are collected, packaged, shipped, and eventually melted for reuse. Cardboard is shipped out approximately once every two weeks to Cascade Paper.

Despite efforts to recycle a large quantity of material from the construction of the Unified Science Center, some items that could be recycled are not. For example, various pieces of wood and other particles of material are not easily recycled due to their small quantities. “While we cannot recycle everything, we try to recycle as much as we can,” said Bingham. “The College’s contract requires that we recycle.”

The College is taking a modern approach to construction with these specifications. Many of the workers are not accustomed to these concerns on a job site, so recycling can create some extra work at first. “It is not standard procedure,” Bingham said. “It is the wave of the future.”

Despite these substantial environmental accommodations, the practicalities of constructing the Unified Science Center have forced Buildings and Grounds to deal with causing a short term environmental problem: noise pollution.

The College has taken important steps in curbing the created noise by stating that all equipment must not exceed a certain maximum decibel level. The loudest piece of machinery permitted on the site is a jackhammer.

Beattie said that although B&G’s policies not drawn many complaints, there have been a few. Furthermore, while most students have not even noticed the construction taking place right next to them as they work in various Thompson laboratories, this may soon change. In the winter, when all construction moves indoors, students should expect to hear a little more noise.

While Beattie states that construction is a wasteful business, he also stresses that the Williams College Buildings and Grounds department constantly researches and attempts to employ useful and effective methods of construction that do not sacrifice the environment. The Unified Science Center is the most recent example of the continuing effort of B&G to consider all costs, including those to the environment, in its projects.