Case Studies

Saint Michael’s College

Building a greener residence hall in less than a year

Today’s university students are said to expect more variety and depth of experience from dorm-room life, quite a contrast to students of the past, who might have been happy with a single-sized mattress and couch. This has motivated schools like Saint Michael’s College to provide a selection of suite and apartment-style residence halls, offering students shared living room space and their own bedrooms.

More recently, the Colchester, Vermont-based liberal arts institution says it’s discovered a way to give upperclassmen more independence in their college experience. Built in 2016, Res Hall 4 is a three-story structure that offers juniors and seniors four-bedroom apartments that come with a bathroom, living room and full kitchen.

Saint Michael's College

“It became a goal of the college that every student should have the opportunity to live in an apartment for at least one year, which also allows them to be on a reduced or no meal plan,” simulating life after college, says Director of Facilities and College Architect James Farrington.

Yet when the college first began planning for the new residence hall in 2011, Farrington says the administration also saw the project as an opportunity to raise the bar for campus sustainability.

The 60,000-square-foot building’s thermal envelope is designed to resist the harsh Vermont winters and the residence hall uses renewable geothermal energy for heat, air conditioning and hot water. There is a single boiler for backup, but Farrington says the college has yet to use it.

“This is clearly one of the most mechanically superior [buildings] on campus. But most important of all, our students appreciate the college’s efforts to be good stewards to the environment,” Farrington says.

Green on a deadline

In Farrington’s mind, Res Hall 4 is just the latest in the college’s sustainability efforts.

“The administration, right up to the president, has been very supportive of the idea of an environmentally friendly campus.”

In 2013, Saint Michael’s College built a geothermal energy system for another project: the Dion Family Student Center and Quad Commons residence hall. A year later, the college partnered with a private company to install a 150-kilowatt net metered solar array on the college’s campus. These projects helped to place Saint Michael’s College as the 11th Greenest College in the United States, according to The Princeton Review.

“The administration, right up to the president, has been very supportive of the idea of an environmentally friendly campus,” Farrington says.

In 2015, this support became crucial as Farrington and his team faced the hurdles of building Res Hall 4, the most environmentally friendly residence hall on campus. Among the challenges was making sure the hall was completed by the time students arrived in mid-August, 2016.

With this deadline in mind, in the summer of 2014 the college hired TruexCullins, a Burlington-based architecture and interior design firm, and a supporting group of local engineers, and soon after began securing building permits. Shortly thereafter, PC Construction Company was added to the team as the construction manager. The plan was to have construction begin in August 2015 and completed a year later, which was cutting it close due to the permitting process. However, the permitting process went well, but still held up the start of construction until October 1, leaving just 10 months to get the job done.

Ready, set, build

Farrington, who had worked with TruexCullins and PC Construction Company, was confident in them.

“Before we even started [construction], I sat down to lunch with the heads of both companies and we all agreed that if we were going to get this done there had to be no surprises down the line,” he says.

Saint Michaels College

TruexCullins understood that every design decision, from wall placement to the amount of space for HVAC mechanisms, had to be looked at from a “buildability” standpoint, while PC Construction Company had to be in constant communication with both the architects and engineers attached to the project.

Res Hall 4 opened on August 1st 2016, and actually had negative change orders.

“The planning up front paid huge dividends down the road, as did bringing two great teams together. They did a really great job laying out the project and working together in the college’s interest,” Farrington says.

As another school year approaches, and a new round of students prepare to turn Res Hall 4 into their new home, Farrington says the college is pleased with the campus’ newest addition.

“As an architect, I’m always going to be more excited by the newer buildings, but I’m pleased at the way we’ve kept the character of our campus alive in all of our projects,” he says. “It’s fun to add modern touches to a historical school and Res Hall 4 really ties together well with the rest of the buildings at Saint Michael’s.”

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