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The Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest preserved the historic character of a 19th century Vermont farmhouse with advanced environmental features.

Franklin Environmental Center is Vermont's first LEED platinum building [video]

November 3, 2008

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. - It's not what you might expect from Vermont's first - and the nation's seventh - LEED platinum certified building. Middlebury College's Franklin Environmental Center at Hillcrest does not look like a spaceship or a water filtration plant, but rather a comfortable no-nonsense historically listed Victorian farmhouse. Originally built in the 1870s, the building is now a model of sustainable design that college planners hope will be replicable at other institutions in Vermont and elsewhere.

The college received notice from the United States Green Building Council in mid-October that the Franklin Environmental Center meets its highest level of certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), under the NC 2.2 standard. The Franklin Environmental Center is used for classes, seminars, faculty offices and student study areas.

CLICK HERE for audio slideshow.

"This recognition is a credit to the creative energy of our faculty, staff, students, and the architect who had the vision to transform a farmhouse into an advanced environmental facility while preserving its historic value and character," said Middlebury President Ronald D. Liebowitz. "A building and project like this represents an important teaching tool for our students, as well as a very visible example of Middlebury's commitment to sustainability."

To obtain the platinum status, the college had to demonstrate that it met numerous criteria in each of five categories, including: sustainable site, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

"We are thrilled," said Middlebury Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay. "One of the most exciting things is that we now have an academic building that faculty and students are clamoring to teach and study in, and which has many advanced environmental features that are of a replicable scale. We hope it will be a useful model for other colleges."

In 2007, rather than construct a new building for its environmental programs, Middlebury worked with architect Steve Smith of SAS Architects in Burlington to complete a dramatic adaptive reuse of its existing facility - an 1875 Italianate-style Vermont farmhouse centrally located on campus. The building was dedicated in 2008 as the Janet Halstead Franklin '72 and Churchill G. Franklin '71 Environmental Center at Hillcrest.

The building includes 14 offices, a studio, study lounge and teaching space, as well as informal meeting areas for students and faculty. A key addition is a technologically advanced lecture hall - known as "The Orchard" - which seats up to 100 and provides space for the environmental studies program's weekly Howard E. Woodin Environmental Studies Colloquium Series, as well as for classes and other college lectures. The Franklin Environmental Center is also home to the college's environmental studies program, the offices of environmental affairs and sustainability integration, and the environmental journalism fellowship program.

The college sourced numerous materials locally, including slate from Fair Haven for the floors and roofs; stone from the towns of Panton and Isle LaMotte for the foundation and walls; granite from Barre; and Forest Stewardship Council certified hardwood trim and flooring from college-owned forests. Five Vermont furniture makers were commissioned to construct office desks, chairs, tables and study carrels made from local sources, most of which were also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Asher Burns-Burg, who graduated from Middlebury in 2005, served on the committee that oversaw the project and pushed hard for the college to aim for LEED certification. "It is very gratifying to have been involved with this project and see this outcome," says Burns-Burg, who now works for the global climate change consulting firm ICF International. "I don't think this would have been possible without the input and energy of a diverse group that dared to ask, 'Can we do more?'"

The project involved deconstruction of a portion, followed by sustainable renovation of the original building and a western addition, and construction of a smaller two-story addition to the south. Full details of the sustainable design and construction process are available online at the Middlebury Web site.

Middlebury's interdisciplinary undergraduate environmental studies program is the oldest in the country, and includes courses in the sciences and environmental policy as well as literature, architecture, history, religion, dance, economics, anthropology, psychology and international studies.

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