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May 16, 2018

Bowdoin to build four Passive House dorms

Courtesy / Lavallee Brensinger A rendering of the four Passive House dorms that Bowdoin Plans to build on Park Row, beginning this summer.

BRUNSWICK — Bowdoin College will start construction this summer on four Passive House dorms, the next step in the college’s commitment to carbon neutrality.

The four buildings, which will house 22 students each, are on 3.56 acres on Park Row, next to Chamberlain Hall. The project overall includes 47,877 square feet of construction and will cost $15.25 million.

Construction is expected to start this year and the would open in August 2019.

The site is mostly vacant, but a two-story clapboard building, Gustafson House, will be torn down to make room for the project, said Keisha Payson, assistant director of sustainability for the college.

On a bright spring day as the busy campus prepared for next week’s commencement, the only sign of the innovative project was stakes in the grass, fluttering different-colored ribbons indicating which of the four dorms they signify. A rendering shows four staggered pitched-roof buildings angled vertically away from Park Row.

Payson said building Passive House dorms “makes a lot of sense” and is a “win-win-win.”

“It keeps our students comfortable, reduces emissions and saves on energy bills,” she said.

Passive House construction has strict performance requirements for energy efficiency, including thickness of insulation, type of windows and energy use.

The dorms will have two four-person apartments on the ground floor, one eight-person apartment on the second floor and one six-person apartment on the third floor, which will also house the mechanics for the ventilation system.

The builder on the project is Wright-Ryan Construction, which is also the construction manager on a 30,000-square foot Passive House addition at Waynflete School in Portland, as well as Passive House projects Bayside Anchor, a 45-unit apartment building in Portland and Brewer’s 48-unit Village Center.

The architect is Lavallee Brensinger of Portland, and the consultant is the engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti, which also has a Portland office.

Schools are in Passive House front row

Photo / Maureen Milliken
The site at Bowdoin College where four Passive House dorms will be built. The building at the right will be razed.

Of the state’s eight commercial Passive House projects that have been built or are in the planning stages, six are private schools, including Bowdoin.

Long-term energy savings play a big part in why are embracing the construction, said Naomi Beal, executive director of passivehausMAINE.

She said those making decisions for schools “have the wisdom and flexibility in funding to commit to and realize those savings.”

Bowdoin’s decision to build to Passive House standards is a great example of “forward-thinking facilities management,” she said.

The Friends School of Portland, built in 2015, is a good example, she said.

“When planning the Friends School of Portland's new campus, the board was profoundly grateful to be able to offer the future of school the luxury of predictably low, if any, utilities costs for the life of the building,” she said.

Public schools and their funding and administrative structures “hobble towns and cities,” she said.

“In the same way that all subsidised housing should be built to the Passive House standard, so should 100% of public schools,” she said. “The long-term cost savings combined with the healthy interiors and indoor air make passive house for all schools an absolute no-brainer.”

Payson said the new construction at Bowdoin is driven by housing needs, and will be for upperclassmen.

Passive House construction is designed so that a building generates much of its own heat, because of the thick insulation and the ventilation system.

The construction is expected to use 50% less energy than traditional construction. The dorms will also be connected to the campus central heating plant.

New sustainability goals

Bowdoin College's Roux Center for the Environment will be LEED Platinum certified.

Bowdoin in 2009 set the year 2020 as its goal to achieve carbon neutrality. In April, the school announced it had met that goal, reducing the school’s carbon emissions by 29%.

The under-construction Roux Center for the Environment at the corner of College Street and Bath Road will LEED platinum certified. Sustainable features include 86 solar panels and a roof garden.

The Schiller Coastal Studies Center, which the college is building in Harpswell, will include a research center, residence and conference location for students, faculty and visiting scientists, and will also be built to minimize energy consumed.

The school is putting together a new climate action plan with specific goals for 2030.

“Obviously we’re going to keep going,” Payson said.

She said as the school sets new goals for energy sustainability and lowering carbon emissions, Passive House construction fits into that. She said it will be considered for future projects, though some lend themselves more to it than others.

The school is also part of a five-college group — also included are Amherst, Williams, Smith and Hampshire, all in Massachusetts — that is funding NextEra’s construction of a 75 megawatt solar array in Farmington.

Bowdoin’s current solar generation effort comprises 1.2 megawatts, with panels up the road at Brunswick Landing, as well as on the roofs of the Farley and Watson athletic buildings.

The dorm project goes before the Brunswick Planning Board Tuesday. [MAY 22]

“Being an academic community with a strong environmental commitment, this was not a difficult transition,” she said. “Rather it was an exciting opportunity to try something new that makes sense in our climate.”

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