Sustainable Village looks to expand

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The Sustainable Village appears to be thriving despite budget cuts effecting the Office of Sustainability, according to Jack Hebert, head and founder of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

“The village is coming along nicely since it began,” Hebert, said. “They are remarkably affordable to run and remarkably efficient.”

While the office and the village work towards the same goal of a more environmentally-minded campus, they are separate entities and do not function under the same leadership or budgets.

“The only relationship that we have with the Office of Sustainability was in spirit and philosophy,” Hebert said. “We worked through them during the design competition and at several other points but other that that we are pretty disconnected.”

The village was created in the fall of 2012 as an experiment in sustainable housing for the arctic. Now in its fourth year of operation, the village provides housing as well as education in sustainability to interested students.

The village is now almost entirely supported and run by the center, Hebert said.

Students also plan a huge role in village activity according to Ness Stevens, a research scientist at the center.

The first year the center played a much larger role in village activity because it was a new experiment and there were still several kinks to work out in the different energy systems throughout the year.

“These were, In some cases, not experimental technologies per say but technologies that hadn’t been completely vetted over time,” Hebert said. “So how the buildings will behave over time is something we don’t know.”

Since then, however, the center has had a much more hands-off approach.

“We still like the check and will always provide help and insight when needed but the students are the ones who really run most of the activities now,” Stevens said.

It was the Resident Assistant that came up with the idea to have an energy competition between houses last year, Stevens said.

The sustainable village currently features four houses, each with different sustainable heat and energy sources. Birch house, for example, features a highly efficient pellet stove while Willow house uses a hydronic system to heat water that circulates through pipes in the floor.

Over time the hydronic system has proved most energy efficient according to the results of an energy usage contest among the four houses completed last year, which has led to conversations about considering expansion.

“We would love to expand it and worked with the university on doing a preliminary master plan to that effect,” Hebert said.

However funding will be difficult, considering the current economic climate at the university.

“It’s a very tenuous time right now,” Hebert said. “It’s still on the drawing board and a possibility that once things settle down a bit in the university’s bit of restructuring and the budget challenges, that that model will come up again.”

If funding is secured, the expansion would include more houses as well as a community center, Hebert said.

“It would be more of a neighborhood with a number of homes and maybe even a number of multi-family units,” Hebert said. “We would love to involve students in the desire whatever form that takes.”

The university would not be bankrolling this project, according to Hebert.

“A management agency would work with the university on managing the buildings so the university would be the anchor tenant for a private development with private funding,” Hebert said. “We we wouldn’t be looking to the university or the state for funding. It’s all a little up in the air right now with the current economy.”

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