The (Invisible) Greening of Bowdoin

by Edgar Allen Beem

Photos by James Marshall

The Greening of Bowdoin

Fifteen hundred feet below the Bowdoin College campus, the temperature of the groundwater is a constant 50 degrees. By drilling a series of wells, pumping the water to the surface and running it through compressors and heat exchangers, it is possible to heat and cool entire buildings with groundwater while reducing both the College's reliance on fossil fuels and its production of greenhouse gases. And that is just what the College has done with the new residence halls on Coffin Street, the twin first-year resident halls that opened in the fall of 2005.

Walk across the Quad, however, from venerable Massachusetts Hall past the newly restored Romanesque towers of the Chapel to the Gothic bulwark of Hubbard Hall and beyond to Coffin Street, and there is nothing to tell you that this historic New England college campus is anything but a 19th century architectural treasure trove. The greening of Bowdoin is virtually invisible. Yet beneath its traditional façade beats the heart of a 21st century college committed to sustainable design and determined to reduce its environmental impact.

"My view is to have a strategic plan to make us more sustainable. That's been my passion since I got here," says S. Catherine (Palevsky) Longley '76, Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer. "Part of the challenge is that we have an historic campus and keeping that great feeling while modernizing buildings is not always easy."

the new East and West Dorms off of Coffin Street embody Bowdoin's enhanced commitment to sustainability.

Since coming to Bowdoin in 2002 from her former position as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, Katy Longley has been leading Bowdoin's concerted effort to reduce energy consumption and solid waste in order to make the College more environmentally friendly and economically efficient. The new Coffin Street Dormitories are just the most complete manifestations of these green initiatives to date.

Designed by Cambridge, Massachusetts, architect Kyu Sung Woo, the $14 million dorms are models of sustainable and contextual design. The clean, contemporary red brick lines fit in modestly with the dominant aesthetic of the campus, yet it is what you don't see that makes the dorm complex cutting edge in terms of sustainability.

Seven 1,500-foot wells deliver groundwater to the basement of the West Dorm where an array of heat pumps and compressors, using a process that might best be described as "refrigeration in reverse," takes the water from 50 degrees to 180 degrees in order to heat the two buildings. And geothermal heat is just the most obvious green feature of the new dorms.

Beside the heat pumps stands a huge 2,100-gallon tank that collects rainwater and melt water from the roof as well as "bleed" water from the geothermal units before it is returned to the earth. This so-called gray water is used to flush all of the toilets in the two dorms.

The dorm basements also feature bicycle storage rooms that encourage students to use muscle-powered transportation around campus and around town.

Colleges and universities, dedicated as they are to the advancement of knowledge, have increasingly become laboratories for sustainable living.

Then there are the truly invisible aspects of the Coffin Street Dormitories. The concrete used in construction, for example, consists of 15 percent fly ash from coal-burning plants in the Midwest. The reinforcing and structural steel uses 95 percent recycled material. There is "Green Plus," a vegetable-based oil instead of a typical hydraulic fluid in all of the elevators. And, like all new construction and renovation projects at Bowdoin from now on, the Coffin Street residence halls underwent "commissioning" before they were accepted, meaning a third-party engineering firm tested all systems to make sure they were performing to design specifications and advertised standards.

The geothermal heating system is estimated to reduce energy use by 40 percent, the rainwater flushing system to reduce water consumption by 20 percent.

All of these green initiatives are in keeping with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, and Bowdoin has applied for and is expecting LEED certification for the new dorms.

Bowdoin's Building Design Standards for Renovation Projects
Based on LEED certification standards, these are the 30 standards Bowdoin has established to guide campus renovation projects whenever possible.
  • Erosion and sedimentation control
  • Conserve natural land by limiting site disturbance during construction
  • Provide bicycle storage
  • Do not exceed local parking requirements
  • Limit development footprint
  • Reduce heat islands
  • Building commissioning regimen
  • Maximize compliance with ASHRAE (building code) guidelines
  • Utilize only non-CFC refrigerants
  • Utilize on-site renewable energy source
  • Install energy monitoring equipment
  • Provide Energy Star certified products
  • Provide energy efficient lighting/equipment
  • Water efficient landscaping
  • Water use reduction
  • Facilities for storage and collection of recyclables
  • Demolition/construction waste management
  • Utilize building materials with post-consumer recycled content
  • Utilize materials manufactured within 500 miles of site
  • Utilize rapidly renewable building materials
  • Utilize wood products from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests
  • Comply with minimum ASHRAE indoor air quality standards
  • Prohibit smoking in building during and following construction
  • Provide a permanent carbon dioxide monitoring system
  • Employ an indoor air quality management plan during construction
  • Utilize only low volatile organic compound-emitting materials
  • Control indoor chemical and pollutant sources
  • Provide occupant-controllable spaces
  • Provide a permanent temperature and humidity monitoring system
  • Maximize daylight and views to the outdoors

"LEED certification," says architect Kyu Sung Woo, "is an important achievement for the entire design team - architects, engineers and the owner. It is an important acknowledgement that the team has accomplished its design goals without sacrificing sustainability."

Kyu Sung Woo is also designing the $27 million renovation of Bowdoin's "Bricks," the six first-year dorms - Appleton, Coleman, Hyde, Maine, Moore and Winthrop. To guide these and other major renovation projects, Don Borkowski, Bowdoin's Director of Capital Projects, has helped develop college building renovation standards based on LEED standards. (See sidebar)

"The renovation of the Bricks," explains Kyu Sung Woo, "will include new insulated windows, a more efficient heating system, installation of low-wattage fluorescent lights and the installation of low-flow toilet fixtures. The majority of the construction waste will be recycled. Many building materials used in the project are made from recycled waste and are regional."

While the Bricks will continue to be steam heated, those Bowdoin grads who remember when the only way to regulate the heat in the old dorms was to open a window will be pleased to know that the College has been systematically repairing the leaky steam lines. The renovations will include state-of-the-art controls, steam to water converters, zoning and thermostats.

Geothermal heating and cooling will be installed, however, in the renovated Walker Art Building and in the conversion of the Curtis Pool building into a new recital hall.

"It's definitely an investment," says Katy Longley of the decision to go with geothermal heating and cooling wherever possible, "but Bowdoin is fortunate to have the endowment and the fiscal resources to do so. Even if there is a payback period, it's the right thing to do."

In April of 2002, Bowdoin adopted an Environmental Mission Statement that states, in part, "The College shall seek to encourage conservation, recycling, and other sustainable practices in its daily decision making processes, and shall take into account, in the operation of the College, all appropriate economic, environmental, and social issues."

While environmental consciousness is by no means new to Bowdoin, the determination to make sustainability standard operating procedure is something of a 21st century phenomenon.

"The end of the last century, we were pretty far behind the curve, playing catch up to other places," says Adams-Catlin Professor of Economics David Vail, who teaches environmental economics and policy in the Environmental Studies program, "but I think we have made tremendous progress."

To begin with, Barry Mills has made long-range planning one of the hallmarks of his administration since he became the College's 14th President in 2001.

Energy use, of course, is not the only area where Bowdoin is seeking to tread more lightly on the earth

"All of us at Bowdoin are, to some degree, the beneficiaries of the vision, planning, and stewardship practiced by those who came before us at the College," says Mills. "A key responsibility of any president here - and one that I take very seriously - has always been to consider the future, and to work with members of the community to both protect the
assets of this historic place and to make sure that inevitable change takes place in a thoughtful manner. We cannot predict everything that will happen down the road, but I believe that we must hand a better Bowdoin to our successors, just as our predecessors have done for us. One way to accomplish that is to minimize our impact on the environment and to embrace conservation as a responsible and beneficial course of action."

In October 2003, the College issued its Strategic Plan to Guide Future Growth, a plan developed by the internationally known New York architectural firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). In the Strategic Plan, which envisioned the Bowdoin campus growing from its present 1.8 million square feet of building space to 2.7 million square feet by 2050, SOM recommended that the College develop an energy master plan to guide future growth along environmentally and economically sustainable lines.

The Facilities Review for a Master Energy Plan developed by engineer J. W. Dawson of Yarmouth, Maine, was adopted in 2005. The Department of Facilities Management began implementing many of the cost and energy saving measures in the energy review well before it was adopted.


One of the biggest changes - and, again, one invisible to members of the campus community - was a switch from burning #6 fuel oil to burning #2 fuel oil in the campus heating plant. That switch to cleaner burning fuel resulted in a 57% reduction in sulfur dioxide and particulate emissions, roughly equivalent to taking 576 cars off the road annually.

The campus-wide effort to reduce fossil fuel consumption and heating bills has led to a number of other green initiatives. Ladd House, for instance, is now burning B20 BioHeat fuel, a 20/80 mix of vegetable oil and petroleum. The college heating plant is no longer idling its backup boiler. Over this past summer, one of the boilers was converted to dual fuel so that it can run on either oil or natural gas. Hundreds of feet of ancient, leaky steam lines and expansion joints have been replaced, reinsulated or repaired. And in one of biggest adjustments on campus, the set point on thermostats throughout Bowdoin's 122 buildings have been turned back from 72 degrees to 68 degrees, each degree reduction theoretically resulting in a 3% energy savings. Over winter break, unoccupied rooms were turned back to 60 degrees. And, given a relatively mild fall, the heat wasn't turned on at Bowdoin until October 11, two weeks later than in 2004.

"All things combined," reports Ted Stam, director of the Department of Facilities Management, " consumption per degree day dropped 12% this December versus last December."

Bowdoin originally budgeted $3.7 million for all utilities for the 2005-06 academic year, but, given the steep rise in the cost of oil and natural gas, the College's utility bills could easily exceed the budgeted amount by more than $1 million, adding new urgency to conservation measures. While reducing fuel consumption has been a prime focus of Bowdoin's green initiatives, overall energy reduction has also been addressed on a number of fronts.

VendingMiser devices, for example, have been installed on all campus vending machines, causing them to power down when not actually in use. All of the College's convenience photocopiers have been replaced with more efficient Energy Star models. Top-loading washing machines have been replaced with front-loading Maytag High-Efficiency washers, saving both water and electricity. Inefficient CRT computer monitors have been replaced with energy-saving flat screen monitors.

Keeping it Green
Photos of mechanicals in the new, green East & West Dorms by James Marshall.
control_boxes.jpg Efficient variable frequency drives control the flow of water to geothermal pumps.

holding_tank.jpg A 2,100-gallon gray water tank collects rain water from the roof, which is used to flush toilets, reducing water consumption by 20%.

wells.jpg The geothermal heating system of seven wells and pumps heats the buildings and domestic water using the ground's thermal energy, reducing energy use by 40%.

stairwell.jpg windows.jpg The use of natural light in stairwells and study areas and throughout the new buildings greatly reduces electricity use.

One area where the College has only just begun to seek fuel efficiency is its transportation fleet. Bowdoin now owns one hybrid car, but plans call for replacing as many vehicles as possible with hybrids. The maintenance and security departments have also recently implemented a "no idling" policy, asking drivers to shut vehicles off when they are not actually moving.

Energy use, of course, is not the only area where Bowdoin is seeking to tread more lightly on the earth.

"In trying to reduce our environmental impact, we have focused on two areas - greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste," says Keisha Payson, who became the coordinator of Sustainable Bowdoin, the sustainability program within the Department of Facilities Management, when it was established in 2001. "We have reduced the amount per student we send to the landfill, but our recycling rate has only increased 3% since I started."

When the Sustainable Bowdoin project began in 2001, Bowdoin was recycling 15% of its solid waste. Today, the recycling rate is 18%. By way of comparison, colleges that win the annual Recyclemania competition sponsored by the EPA and the National Wildlife Federation recycle as much as 40% of their solid waste. Tufts University, which placed second in the friendly collegiate competition last year, recycled 41.39% of its waste. Bowdoin will be entering the Recyclemania competition for the first time in 2006 and its current 18% recycling rate would put it in roughly the same class as Boston College (17.85%), Brown (19.38%) and Yale (14.15%).

During Maine Recycles Week in mid-November, 2005, Sustainable Bowdoin held its annual trash audit competition, pitting first year dorms against one another to see which dorm is the most efficient recycler. Student "eco-reps" in white hazardous materials suits and red goggles weighed almost 1,000 pounds of dorm trash and then sorted through five sample bags from each dorm to determine the winner. Coffin Street West residents won the consciousness-raising event when it was judged that only 33% of their trash consisted of waste that could have been recycled.

One of the most visible sustainability efforts on campus, as it happens, also involves solid waste, or, to be more accurate, discarded possessions that students leave behind when they move out in the spring.

For the past four years, Dump & Run sales have been held at the Dayton Arena the first Saturday after Reunion Weekend. Volunteers sort the mountain of clothes, appliances, rugs, and furniture left behind by Bowdoin students and the proceeds from the academic flea market go to non-profits such as Sweetser, Maine's largest mental health care organization, and Habitat for Humanity. Foodstuffs and toiletries are donated to the Midcoast Hunger Prevention program, which last June received 1,225 pounds of food and 895 pounds of toiletries left behind in Bowdoin dorms.

Brunswick planning director Theo Holtwick applauds Bowdoin's efforts to become a better environmental citizen and sees a positive trend in town-gown relations.

"I think in my eight years here," says Holtwick, "the College has done enormously better in engaging the community and its neighbors in discussing projects before they go forward. The other thing the College has done is to actively place senior staff on the planning committees that the town has. They're at the table thinking along with us now."

As an example of the cooperative spirit being fostered between Bowdoin and Brunswick, Holtwick notes that the town is now piggybacking on the College's use of "compost tea" from the school's organic compost pile to fertilize playing fields rather than rely on toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

The college shall seek to encourage conservation, recycling, and other sustainable practices in its daily decision making processes, and shall take into account, in the operation of the college, all appropriate economic, environmental, and social issues.

Colleges and universities, dedicated as they are to the advancement of knowledge, have increasingly become laboratories for sustainable living. Bowdoin, with its historic commitment to what its first President Joseph McKeen referred to as the Common Good, clearly wants to be a leader in establishing best environmental practices. That desire is now being expressed in dozens of different ways across campus - from switching to biodegradable cleaning supplies and creating "green pads" out of recycled copier paper to reducing hazardous waste by 91% since 1990 by instituting a micro-chemistry approach to experimentation in science labs and establishing a well-managed chemical inventory process.

On a larger scale, Bowdoin has recently signed on to Maine Governor John Baldacci's Carbon Challenge, pledging to reduce carbon emissions by 11% by the year 2010, using 2002 as the baseline.

At the moment, the College is in the process of developing an Environmental Management System (EMS), a policy document that will serve as a tool monitor and measure Bowdoin's goals in eight areas - hazardous waste, solid waste, recycling, air emissions, building inefficiencies, water use, compressor inefficiencies and heating alternatives.

"Most colleges, to my knowledge, that already have an EMS," says Mark Fisher, Bowdoin's Environmental Health and Safety Officer, "are large universities that adopted them on an industrial basis. With small colleges, it's very, very new."

The Environmental Protection Agency requires institutions that have been audited and found not to be in compliance to implement Environmental Management Systems, but Bowdoin is considering adopting an EMS on a voluntary basis.

Katherine Kirklin '07, an English and environmental studies major from South Portland, Maine, has been busy this school year organizing the Third Annual Maine State Summit on Climate Action (held at Adams Hall on February 11). Kirklin sees the greening of Bowdoin every day and she sees nothing at all radical about it.


"There's a lot of momentum and a lot of great ideas on campus because of energetic people like Keisha and the environmental studies department," says Kirklin. "In my time at Bowdoin, a lot of positive changes have happened and all these changes are not having a negative impact on anyone's daily life."

And that's really the point. A commitment to sustainability no longer means, as it may have in the 1970s, chopping firewood, reading by candlelight, installing bulky solar apparatus on the roof and banks of storage batteries in the basement, or mucking out the composting toilet. Green design and sustainable development have become mainstream best practices and Bowdoin has adopted them, for the good of the College and for the common good.