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Green Dorm Construction Booms


College students in much of Kentucky move into dorms later this week.  Many will be greeted by the sounds of construction.  Residence halls are under construction at the University of Kentucky, Berea College and Eastern Kentucky University. And those new buildings will be some of “greenest” ever built in the Commonwealth.

The residence hall or dormitory projects, if you prefer, at Berea College, EKU and UK will be built with energy efficiency in mind.  At Berea College, Vice President Steve Karcher says a new 122-bed green dorm will be sealed against the elements…

“It will be a very, very tight envelope.  So, it will be highly energy efficient.  We think this will be about 50 percent more efficient than a dormitory in Kentucky that would be built to typical energy standards today,” said Karcher.

Karcher, who calls the Berea dorm “deep green,” says it’ll feature a solar array on the roof which will provide about 14 percent of the energy needed for the building.  A geo-thermal system will provide heat and storm water will be collected on site for re-use.  Karcher says the rooms will also have energy-saving technology...

“They’ll be monitors on the windows.  If you open up the windows, that will shut the systems down in your room, so you can’t be creating heat that you’re pumping out the window or cooling that you’re pumping out the window.  Open the window and the system goes off and then you can enjoy the fresh air,” said Karcher.

In Lexington, a public-private partnership is rebuilding U-K’s residence halls.  U-K Sustainability Coordinator Shane Tedder says the residence hall under construction on the site of old Haggin Field will also use geo-thermal energy.

‘It’s gonna’ be heated and cooled using geo thermal.  And so they’ll be geo thermal wells drilled close by and after the initial cost of getting the bore holes in and getting the system in place, the heating and cooling is essentially free.  It’s coming from the constant temperature of the earth’s core,” said Tedder.

Besides the environmental benefits, there’s also an economic pay-off. An energy efficient building costs less to heat, cool and light.

“Building of the building with good insulation, good day lighting opportunities, and with efficient heating and cooling systems, from a building standpoint is really the way to go in terms of reducing the economic footprint as well as the environmental footprint of that place,” added Tedder.

Crews at Eastern Kentucky University are working on a green residence hall which will house 250 students.    E-K-U Housing Director Kenna Middleton says even the dirt itself can play a role in saving energy. Instead of trucking it away, builders are re-using it.

“Some of the foundation will be fill foundation that’s used from the existing building, or the building that was there prior to the building of the new residence hall,” said Middleton.

In a traditional dorm, residents have very little control over a room’s temperature.  It was set by the dorm’s manager.   The new dorm off Kit Carson Drive provides each room with a thermostat, giving students control over a room’s temperature.   By empowering residents, Middleton hopes they’ll conserve energy.

“It will actually be self contained within the student rooms.  So it won’t be run on the single pipe system that university has, so it will be more easily regulated by the students,” explained Middleton.

Campus-wide, Middleton says Eastern has replaced about half of the windows in its residence halls with more energy efficient panes.  As dormitories are renovated,  she says greener technologies are installed.  Already, many of the beds are made with recycled wood.

The upfront costs of building green are significant.  The idea is to recover some those expenses throughout the life of the building. 

Back at Berea College, the residence hall is considered a ‘demonstration model’  Vice President Steve Karcher admits the high cost of building a green three-story structure likely means it will never pay for itself.

“Because of some of the features, things like the real time monitoring within the building, so students can see exactly how much power they’re using, how much water is being used.  Those kind of elements, while they help to push behavior in the direction you want, they’re probably all by themselves, not gonna pay for themselves,” said Karcher.

Adding to the uncertainty is the speculative nature of energy costs.    If the price of fuel changes dramatically, Shane Tedder at U-K says it could serious undermine their projections.

“The economics at looking at, how much is gonna be saved or avoided over the 50 year 60 year life of that facility, is very important and one of the really difficult things about making that accounting work out in black and white is not being able to predict what energy markets are gonna do over the next few decades,” said Tedder.

With that said, officials at all three schools predict building more energy efficient buildings on campus is a practice that’s here to stay.  There are the potential savings in dollars and cents issue, and the growing effort to reduce the carbon footprint where ever possible.

Stu has been reporting for WEKU for more than 30 years.
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