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William & Mary plans campus 'eco-village'

Kaid Benfield

Posted December 19, 2011 in Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment

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  planned solar garden in W&M's new eco-village (by: College of William & Mary)

Next up in the growing number of colleges and universities pursuing sustainability may be the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Last week, the highly regarded academic institution reaffirmed plans to build an ‘eco-village’ of student cottages on the campus site of the College’s Lodges, small-scale student housing built in 1947 and in need of rehab or replacement.  The Lodges have been some of the most popular living spaces on campus.

According to a story posted on the William & Mary web site by Megan Shearin, a study commissioned by the College’s governing Board of Visitors determined that replacement would be more cost-effective than rehabbing the older buildings and proposed that the institution seize the opportunity to build a green showcase:

“The proposed eco-village would transform the site by using cutting-edge technology and the latest sustainability strategies.

site plan for W&M eco-village (by: College of William & Mary)“Replacement cottages will feature energy-efficient appliances, windows and doors. Low-flow showerheads, bathroom faucets and rain barrels would conserve water usage. Reconstruction would also allow for reorientation of the Lodges to optimize the sun’s energy . . .

“The village features an outdoor solar plaza comprising 183 solar panels to generate and supply electricity to the site, said Martin. A rain garden is proposed to surround the perimeter of the village to help decrease pollutants caused by stormwater runoff. A green roof on the coffee house rounds out the landscaping changes.”

Energy consumption in the new cottages is expected to be reduced 75 percent compared to the current structures, even though the new facilities will house more students than the old. 

Shearin reports that the plans have been in development for almost three years.  Indeed, a story was posted about the project on the College’s web site last year by Erin Zagursky, stressing the education and research potential of the new facility.  William & Mary president Taylor Reveley formally announced the project on Earth Day, 2010.

  cottage planned for new W&M eco-village (by: College of William & Mary)  one of the current Lodges (by: College of William & Mary)

Each of the seven new cottages (above left) will house nine students.  In addition, one cottage in the village will house The Daily Grind, a popular campus coffee shop and hangout that has been a fixture in The Lodges.

I have to admit that part of me has a nagging ambivalence about the demolition of the old Lodges, which have apparently played a notable role in the campus’s history.  I can’t help but wonder if the College looked hard enough at the option of green rehabs, which would have provided many of the same benefits without incurring the same loss.  On the other hand, the architecture of the Lodges (above right) resembles postwar suburbia more than most people’s notions of classic Williamsburg history, and it’s not like the community doesn’t already have an abundance of historic properties of great cultural value.  The College is apparently considering retaining one of the old structures for the sake of legacy, and that might be a decent compromise.

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Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page.  Please also visit NRDC’s sustainable communities video channel. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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