‘Green’ learning in sustainable classrooms

Local News April 23, 2010

‘Green’ learning in sustainable classrooms

Maharishi University of Management constructs an off-the-grid academic building for sustainable living majors

MATT MILNER Courier Staff Writer

Matt Milner/The Courier Construction workers had to move carefully to avoid excessive damage to the tree trunks that will be a signature element in the new building for MUM’s sustainable living program. The school held a ceremony at the site on Thursday to mark Earth Day

FAIRFIELD — Builders and backers of the new home for sustainable living majors at Maharishi University of Management say nothing like it has been attempted anywhere.

It’s easy to believe them.

The construction brings together four basic philosophies. Three are focused on environmental impact and resource demands. The fourth is, as all new buildings at the college are, based on Vedic concepts. It’s a tough combination to pull off.

When complete, the building will be completely off the grid for electrical power, climate control and waste removal. The goal is creation of a building that meets the university’s needs for classroom and office space while demonstrating concepts the students learn inside.

Dr. David Fisher, director of the sustainable living department, thinks the building will help draw students. That has not been a problem for the program, which opened in 2003 with six students and now has 80 sustainable living majors. He called it an “incredible environmental building.”

It is not large as academic buildings go. That’s intentional.

“We didn’t want to make it too large because we’re trying to do so much,” Fisher said.

Right now the site doesn’t look markedly different from any other building under construction. Stud framed walls are the exterior on two sides. The other two are still open. The biggest clues that something different is going on are the nearly full-sized tree trunks that form part of one hallway. Others lay around the site, ready to be raised.

The trees being used are aspens. They are fast-growing and were harvested from a farm dedicated to sustaining its population. A slight sheen and a lack of bark are the only things that show they have been processed for construction. Builders said the trunks have strength similar to steel when they are maintained instead of sawed into boards.

Dal Loiselle, the developer and construction manager for the site, has worked on “green” building sites for 21 years. He said the costs are not all that different from those involved in traditional construction, provided the effort is made from the start. Adding environmentally friendly traits to an existing project can be expensive.

“It entails commitment, basically,” he said. “It’s just a matter of having the desire and doing it.”

Loiselle emphasized that none of the technology being incorporated is new. It’s off the shelf stuff that any builder can use.

The completed structure will be LEED platinum certified and meet the requirements for building biology, Vedic architecture and the Living Building Challenge. Students will have access to the roof and walls to study the concepts they learn in class. Monitors will track every shift in temperature, humidity and environmental change, wired into a website people can check from anywhere in the world.

Thursday’s ceremony was somewhere between a groundbreaking and a dedication, tied into Earth Day at MUM. It’s the 40th Earth Day, noted Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy. He expressed the hope that the building’s edge-of-the-envelope attempt today will be standard in another 40 years.

Matt Milner can be reached at (641) 683-5359 or via e-mail at mmilner@ottumwacourier.com

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