Joanna Long
December 11, 2002


Green Dorm Internship Final Report

I started off the semester with very general instructions to research schools that had green dorms in order to find a model for Whitman’s next dorm building project. So I spent hours on the internet finding schools, and reading up on what kinds of things they were doing to make their dorms “green.” All kinds of schools claim to have some sort of “green” or “eco” dorm, but for many of them this title doesn’t go beyond basic building designs or improvements. None of the schools really talked about having a “green” community within the buildings; much less what this community did that made it innovative. This research generated a list of schools who had these dorms including: Northland College, University of Idaho, Willamette University, Middlebury College, Tulane University, Furman University and Proctor University. It also generated a list of design ideas for the building and furnishing of the dorm itself including: solar hot water, recycled furniture, a wind tower, compact florescent light bulbs, xeriscape landscaping, and composting toilets. Once I had come up with these lists I was a little lost on where to go. Alison and I decided that it was time to meet with Pete Harvey to find out his thoughts on having a green dorm, and the approximate budget, and size of the dorm.

Meeting with Pete Harvey was a little intimidating but he ended up being very supportive of our efforts, and even offered us ideas of things we could include. From this meeting we found out that the college has not even begun to look into the planning of this dorm, but when built it will most likely house around one hundred first and second year students. The college generally looks for materials and designs that have a return rate of between five and ten years. They are willing to invest in environmentally friendly designs as long as the greater up front cost is balanced out by the amount of money saved within this time frame. Based on the other dorms on campus, this new dorm would be around 35,000 square feet and would have a budget of around eight million dollars. When asked about architects and design Pete Harvey told us that the college wants all new buildings to be as sustainable as possible and that most architecture firms these days incorporate green design because it is cost effective. He gave us numerous examples of sustainable design the college has used, both from the Reid Campus Center and from the new wing of the science building. At this point I realized that the architects and the college are very aware of green design and building and furthermore they understood it better than me. It was time to change strategies, and start focusing on the social dynamics, programming, and community that we wanted in the dorm rather than on what they used to build it.

After the meeting with Pete Harvey it became evident that it was time to check in with our coordinator, Tom Davis, to see what his thoughts were on the progression of the project. When we met with Tom he agreed that our focus should shift to the social aspects of the dorm. He stressed the importance of having a space on campus where students are encouraged to think in non-compartmentalized ways. The green dorm would be a place that encouraged creative thinking, living, and action. It would not only be a place to make friends, sleep, and read, but also a place to learn yoga, to be challenged intellectually, to learn how to live cooperatively in a community. Basically the dorm would be there for the whole individual rather than focused on specific needs. The questions that I began to focus on were, what kind of individual would want to live in this dorm, and how do you create this wonderful community? Instead of looking into schools that boasted a green dorm, I began looking for schools that had alternative living communities.

The first example I found of this kind of living situation was Oberlin College. They have a number of different living and dining co-ops. Students living in the co-ops are responsible for all aspects of running the hall such as general cleaning, garbage and recycling responsibilities. When conflicts arise they are brought to a community meeting to be resolved. These living co-ops foster personal responsibility, community skills, as well as allowing students more personal freedom. Oberlin’s co-ops have been around for over fifty years and serve as a great model for what our green dorm could be. The co-ops, however, house on the order of twenty to forty students and the green dorm will have to house around a hundred residents. Even so, the community idea that they are working from is very much akin to what we would like to see in the green dorm. Although both Alison and I looked for other examples of this sort of programming in campus housing, we didn’t really find anything.

Alison and I decided that before we could really get anywhere with this project we needed to make sure that we had student support for what we were doing. In order to see what students thought about having a green dorm we sent out a couple of emails to the list-serve. In one of the emails we asked students if they had any ideas they would like to see incorporated in the dorm, and in the other one we asked students if given the chance they would opt to live in such a dorm. Overall we received over twenty responses, most of them very positive. We did not get any really good suggestions on what students would like to see, which is understandable considering how new the whole idea is. I think that it was good to see that indeed we do have campus support for this type of project before we presented it to anyone important.

After we sent out and responded to many emails, we decided to look into the mission statements of different green dorms. Although this was interesting, I don’t think it was extremely helpful because we were not ready to write our own mission statement at the time. It was good to see that the schools that had green dorms had many of the same objectives that we have for our green dorm (University of Idaho has an especially good and potentially useful one). When the time comes for us to write a mission statement, these will provide excellent models for us to utilize.

After looking into mission statements, Alison and I realized that we again felt like we were stuck, and didn’t really know where to focus next. We met with Tom Davis and described to him where we were, and he laid out the next step for us. He suggested that we come up with three different proposals for the green dorm to be eventually presented to the board of trustees as well as Tom Cronin. Alison and I decided that the best way to do this was to each come up with one proposal separately, and then to merge our best ideas into the third proposal. We gave ourselves until the end of Thanksgiving break to come up with our individual proposals.

The proposal that I came up with is as follows: I split the dorm into seven units each housing fourteen students for a total of ninety-eight residents. Within each of the units there are two quads and one group of six. Each unit has its own large kitchen where all of the dinners are cooked. Two students each evening are in charge of cooking dinner for all fourteen-unit mates. At least a couple of units would be designated as vegetarian or vegan. Each section would be responsible for their own cleaning, as well as some of the all-dorm duties. There are many rooms which are for the all residents to enjoy. These rooms include: a green library/study room with books on environmental topics, a TV room with a stationary bike to power the TV, a meditation/yoga room where drop-in classes will be taught, a roof garden and a courtyard large enough to be usable. Some other components include: a living machine to clean waste water and recycle it back to the toilets, a wall of rage where residents will post articles and information about environmental degradation, and a wall of hope where you will be able to learn what people are doing and what you can do to combat the issues on the wall of rage. I also incorporated a thrift room where residents will bring donated clothes they pick up from other residence halls and wash. Once or twice a semester the green dorm would have a sale of all this collected clothing and the money would be donated to a cause to be decided by the residents. In addition to all of these programs, the dorm would also have a very green design and building.

Alison’s plan for the dorm had six people per section with two sections on the first floor and three on each of the other two floors. She included a rooftop garden, a large lounge/dining area on the first floor, a study room/environmental library on the second floor, and a reflection room with yoga mats on the third floor. Within each suite of six she had a small lounge, a bathroom and a kitchenette. On each floor she included a complete kitchen for all of the suites to use. On the first floor she put the donation room. One of the programs that she included was an all-hall potluck once a month. Dishes and silverware would be given to students upon acceptance to the dorm to reduce food service waste. There would be laundry room in the basement with a TV room and a workout area.

We combined parts of each of our proposals to come up with our third plan. In this plan we included fifteen sextets, called “suites” for a total of ninety students. Each of these suites includes a kitchenette, bathroom, living area and three bedrooms. There are three suites in each section. We decided to include the wall of rage and the wall of hope in the foyer, also the reflection room, the thrift room, the TV room powered by the stationary bike, the environmental library, a living machine, and roof-top garden. Each resident will be required to put in 2-3 hours of chore time per week to the dorm. The residents would be on a limited food plan with the ability to cook in suite. There would be weekly all-dorm potlucks, with each suite bringing a dish and one suite hosting. The building would also have a very sustainable design.

These three proposals are still in a development stage. As we work on these proposals I think we will try to differentiate them a bit more. This way there will be more of a choice between the three different plans.

I feel that this project has many benefits to offer the larger Whitman community. I think that this dorm would serve to challenge students to higher levels of thinking by forcing them to take responsibility for their own food, waste, and chores. Many Whitman students simply have no idea how much food they waste, or how much they throw away because they do not have to deal with these things-it’s what the custodians and janitors do. When students live in an environment where they are responsible for taking out their own trash, cooking, and cleaning, suddenly they will begin to understand how their actions impact these areas. Programming in the dorm would also help students to recognize their impacts by such measures as telling students how much energy and water the dorm is using and coming up with goals to reduce these numbers. The green dorm would also provide a draw for prospective students who were looking to find special community to be a part of. The standing of the college would likely improve and students on campus would be happier with more choice in housing options. This was reflected in all of the enthusiastic responses we got from students on the list serve who wanted the opportunity to live in this dorm even when they knew it isn’t a possibility yet.

I also think that Walla Walla in general could benefit from this dorm. This is a very conservative area, and education plays a vital role in helping people to see environmental issues and why there are important. I think that inviting different groups who are active in the community (Walla Walla 20/20 for instance) would help both the Walla Walla community and empower the residents of the dorm. I even think that it would be great to bring small school groups of all ages it to educate them on some environmental issues, as well as provide a model for what can be done about these issues. Of course not everyone in the Walla Walla community is interested in being educated about environmental issues, but you also cannot discount those who do have genuine interest.

As far as time goes I have spent an average of four hours per week on this project. Every Monday, Tuesday, and Friday at ten I spent an hour working, and on Thursday at ten Alison and I met at in the environmental studies room. During these meetings we discussed where we were in the project and what our next moves would be. As the semester went on I found that it was more efficient to spend large chunks of time on this project rather than the hour long segments that I previously was using. Sometimes we had meetings with people like Tom Davis, Lea Ann Redmond, and Pete Harvey throughout the week. I also made up any time that I missed on the weekends and on breaks.

The main problems that I have come across while working on this project have been: first, that researching schools and green design on the internet took an incredible amount of time. The largest problem with finding information on the internet was sorting through all of the sites to find schools that had relevant programs. Another big problem was that we focused on the wrong aspect of this project for a long time until we shifted our focus to the social programming. The largest ongoing problem has been figuring out how to break up such a huge project into manageable pieces. Although we know that we are not done with the project, it is always hard for Alison and I to figure out where to go next just because the whole thing seems so daunting. Time has definitely been a problem, especially during those weeks when both Alison and myself were being pressed hard in all of our standard classes.

I have learned a great deal through the course of this project. I learned all about different kinds of green building materials, and designs. I found it very impressive and surprising that most architecture firms now use these techniques and materials in their projects. I also was impressed with the college’s environmental building policy. It seems to me that they do a very good job making sure that their new buildings are as sustainable as possible. Meeting with Pete Harvey provided me with a lot of insight into how the finances of the school work. I found that meeting for being such an authority of the school he was easily accessible, and very interested in what ideas we had. I asked many challenging questions such as: “What kind of student would want to live in a green dorm?” and “How do you create a green community?” I have thought of the communities that I have been a part of and have tried to pinpoint factors that helped to create these communities. One of the most useful things that I have learned through this internship is how to tackle a huge task in small but meaningful chunks. This has been a challenge all semester, but I think that it is a very important skill to have. Tom Davis has been there for us when we really get stuck, but overall I feel like I am getting it more and more as this project continues.

Overall I think that this project has come along nicely despite the small problems that I’ve had, and I look forward to continuing it next semester. I think that the next step for this project is to finalize all three proposals, present them first to Tom Davis and then revise them based on his suggestions. Then I think that the proposals should be show to the environmental committee (a group of faculty) to see what their reaction is like. Once we get the plans to a stage where we feel really good about them we will go ahead and present them to Tom Cronin and the board of trustees. This may become a project mainly based on selling the idea to the campus hierarchy in order to get the real work started.

 

Spring Semester

Initial Goals

This semester we began with the objectives to present the three plans we came up with to Tom, and then revise the plans based on Tom's suggestions. Then we proposed takng the plans to the Environmental Committee (made up of faculty) to get further advise. Then we were going to Tom Cronin and other important people.

Work Completed

This semester we have taken our plans to Tom, but due to his busy schedule he has not been able to get back to us with advice. Without his input we have not been able to revise our plans much. However, Tom has urged us to go on without his suggestions so we have begun to put together a power point presentation to use when we take our proposal to Tom Cronin, etc. We have done work to find more examples of Eco-Dorms at the top liberal arts colleges. These examples will be especially useful because Whitman is trying very hard to be competitive with these top schools. We also started out the semester with the idea that we might be able to take a trip to the University of Idaho to see the Eco-Dorm they are advertising on the web. Unfortunately, after many emails we found out that they have not really started the building of the dorm due to the economy. Without a building to look at, the trip to the U of I had to be cancelled. Instead of using photos from the trip, we have started using photos from the web of the examples that we have found. We met with Tom at a point when we thought we were almost done with the power point, at which point he suggested that we add an extensive section on funding. To do this part we started researching how other schools had managed to finance their buildings, but found this information was mostly lacking from web pages. Alison emailed a few of the schools requesting more information, and we included the information we received in these emails. We also decided to include a section describing some the main components of the Eco-Dorm such as the Living Machine, and roof top gardens. At this point we have thirty-four slides and are still not finished. Alison and I hope to meet once more to put in the last of our information, but we may not be able to fully complete the power point to a polished stage. Unfortunately, we will not be able to present the power point this year and will have to move that process to next fall instead.

Logistics

This semester Alison and I have met each Monday at ten to go over our work, plan where we are going next, and to work on our power point. Sometimes during the week we meet with Tom Davis, but he has been hard to get a hold of this semester. Between our meetings we each do work on our own (between one and three hours), and then bring this information to each other in meetings.

Problems

The main problem this semester has been waiting on Tom Davis, and trying to get his comments on our plans. This has been frustrating at times, but once we started working on our power point presentation it became less of an issue because we have a lot of work we can do without him. While we were waiting for Tom to get back to us at the beginning of the semester, we ran into the same problem that we had last semester, namely not knowing what to do. We solved this problem by researching the top liberal arts colleges' eco-buildings. I think that this was a constructive thing to do, because it is going to help our presentation. One of the problems with working on the power point presentation was that we didn't have anything to do individually during the week. We were going to set up a second meeting time, but our schedules made this too difficult to accomplish. I definitely didn't think that putting together the power point was going to take us practically the whole semester, but the research that we had to do for each page really made it move slowly. Due to this constraint we were not able to present our project to the people who we wanted to. This will be one of the first things I do next fall while Alison is abroad. In some ways I think that it worked out best this way because now I can present it to folks who aren't burnt out on the semester, and are excited to hear new ideas.

Personal Value

This semester I am taking Aesthetics with Tom Davis, and this class has really helped me reflect on the purpose and potential design of the eco-dorm. I have come to understand better what being a non-compartmentalized dorm really means. During the last part of the Aesthetics class we focused specifically on architecture, and read Boundaries by Maya Lin. This book as well as conversations with Tom have helped me think about creating a threshhold to welcome students into the dorm, as well as what kinds of public art pieces the dorm needs. These ideas are really exciting to me, and have made me realize how intelligently this dorm can and should be built. Maya Lin is very into environmental buildings, connection to place and to nature so her book has really been an inspiration to me and to this project. These insights into the dorm have also helped me to consider what kind of house I want to live in, and how to live my life in a more holistic fashion, and why this is so important. Using power point has also helped me to realize what an effective tool it is, and helped me to think about other places where I can use it. I have also been thinking about how architecture can be a creative and provocative force and how our culture has lost this idea. This internship has really helped me have a hands-on experience with the concepts that I am exploring in my aesthetics class, and it has helped me think about my independently planned major (environmental-philosophy). I'm excited and nervous to be working on this project alone next fall. I think that it will be harder to motivate myself without Alison and our regular meeting times, but I think that this year has really prepared me to take over the project while still communicating with Alison while she is abroad.

Reflections

I think that this semester has gone much smoother than last semester because I have a better idea of where we are going with the eco-dorm. I think that we are beginning to create a very persuasive presentation for the dorm, and I continue to come up with new ideas for the dorm. From the people I have talked to about it, the students seem really excited about this new dorm. I think that Alison and I have done a good job thus far with our power point presentation, and I am looking forward to completing it and presenting our ideas. I think that this semester the papers, journals and posters for the internship took away from the actual work we were doing (no offense). I think we got to a point where we pretty much knew where we were ging and didn't necessarily need the extra structure. I think that we are fully prepared to take this project on next year on our own, and I think that the foundation for this was the structure of the internship.

Work to be completed

Once we finish our presentation we will show it to Tom and then I will edit it as necessary next fall. I plan on trying to get as much feedback and critique as possible from those who I know will be supportive of a green dorm such as the Environmental Committee. Once I feel like the power point as well as my presentation is polished I will be ready to show it to Tom Cronin and the board of directors. I expect that revision and presenting will take up most of the fall semester, and then Alison will take over the project in the spring while I am abroad. If I make it through all of these steps before the end of the year then I will get Tom Cronin's opinion, see if more persuasion is necessary. If so, I will begin with new persuasion tactics, and if not, I will begin contacting possible donors and look into grants. As Tom Davis has pointed out, this project will probably take years to shape, and we are still at the beginning of this project.