Students passing through Paresky this week should watch for opportunities concerning a new housing option at the College: eco-dorms. Thursday Night Grassroots (TNG), the College’s student environmental organization, will be gauging student interest and providing information on its initiative for a “greener” living space on campus.
“An eco-dorm would be a high-performing building that minimizes the impact on earth’s resources during construction and occupancy,” said Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. “The design and construction of an eco-dorm would subscribe to the principles of sustainable building.”
TNG activists, including co-coordinators Sasha Macko ’11 and Hilary Dolstad ’11, worked with the Zilkha Center to submit their proposal at the end of the fall semester.
“Through the utilization of sustainable construction, retrofitting and the installation of green technologies,” the document states, “this ‘eco-dorm’ would provide a space for students to learn more about the importance of sustainability within the built environment.”
Macko, co-leader and four-year member of TNG, played an integral part in drafting and submitting the recent proposal. As an environmental policy major, she has observed a demand for a greener living space at Williams.
“The eco-dorms would save money on heating and energy costs, meet sustainability goals, provide educational opportunities for classes such as environmental studies and architecture and build a more ecologically aware student community,” she said. “Those students who want to practice a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle would have the opportunity to do so.”
Rather than constructing a new dormitory from scratch, TNG members have suggested renovating existing housing areas as they come up for repair, a significantly more timely and cost-effective option.
“Regularly the College updates and renovates dorms and other buildings on campus,” Boyd said. “As we plan for future renovations, we will be incorporating green building practices.”
Adjustments would bear in mind the building recommendations made by the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee, which the proposal summarizes as “cost-effective green design in line with the College’s emissions reductions goals,” which are detailed as “no net gain in carbon emissions.”
Eco-dorms would be retrofitted with green additions such as better kitchen space for students, low-flow faucets and showers, energy efficient appliances and more effective insulation.
In-house energy monitoring systems would be installed, as well as amenities for students such as clotheslines, covered outdoor bike racks and kitchen supplies.
Alternative energy sources would be employed for electric needs, and buildings would have green roofs or house gardens. Eco-dorms would be a nonexclusive space open to all students regardless of class year.
No absolute timelines or cost estimates have been published, but supporters note that an effort to renovate existing infrastructure would be both quicker and more cost-efficient than an entirely new construction project.
“Since these plans could be applied to any space, cost and construction time would vary depending on the building,” Macko said. “Since we would save on water and heating, the work has the potential to pay for itself in the long run.”
While much progress has been made since the establishment of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives in 2001, those in charge still claim that the College is behind the curve on sustainability initiatives.
“While Williams is working hard on many environmental issues, with no ecologically sustainable dorms we are lagging behind other campuses,” Macko said.
Boyd agreed: “Currently many of our dorms consume energy wastefully, do not facilitate easy recycling and are often not comfortable during hot or cold times of the year,” she said. “The proposed adjustments would presumably work to remedy such problems and to bring Williams up to par with other environmentally progressive colleges.”
TNG wrote in the proposal that, assuming the cooperation of the College community, they hope that the renovation of a single dormitory “will be used as a test model for a larger, campus-wide movement towards more environmentally conscious student living.”
A more detailed plan will be made known as group members receive feedback from Facilities and the Zilkha Center.
TNG will also be assessing student interest this week by tabling in Paresky.