University of Vermont

Greening of Aiken Update: A National Award and a New Living Lab Fund

George D. Aiken Center, green-renovated home to the Rubenstein School  on the University of Vermont campus
George D. Aiken Center, green-renovated home to the Rubenstein School on the University of Vermont campus

For more than a year now, the Rubenstein School community has been thriving in the green renovated George D. Aiken Center.  In December, the Aiken Center and Maclay Architects of Waitsfield, Vermont won a national award of merit from the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council.  On January 10, Michelle Smith (ENVS ’02), UVM’s green building coordinator, accepted the award in Washington, DC on behalf of Maclay Architects, UVM, and the Rubenstein School.

“The University of Vermont is very honored that the George D. Aiken Center was recently awarded an Award of Merit for Distinction in High-Performance Buildings from the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council’s Beyond Green High-Performance Building Award's program,” states Michelle.  “It is wonderful to receive recognition for the hard work and dedication that the entire project team invested in the deep energy retrofit project that will educate students and community members for decades to come.  One of the goals of the project was to create a ‘learning laboratory’ with the renovation, and we have more than succeeded, with the Eco-Machine, green roof, and solar trackers all supporting research projects within the School.”

To support the on-going integration of teaching and research in the Aiken Center, Interim Dean Jon Erickson and the Rubenstein School Board of Advisors initiated a gift fund, called the George D. Aiken Center Living Lab Fund. The fund will be used to support storm water monitoring projects on the green roof; experiments with the Eco-Machine; energy management through a dashboard monitoring system; building enhancements to reach the goal of net-zero energy; student projects around ecological landscaping and interior decorating with eco-art and natural materials; and long-term integration of the Aiken living laboratory with student internships and class projects.

For the 12th straight year, the Greening of Aiken Interns class is producing exciting and important findings related to the green Aiken Center.  This year, students are quantifying the energy efficiency performance of the building and conducting water quality testing associated with the Eco-Machine and the green roof, among other class projects.  Read more about this year’s seven Greening of Aiken Intern class projects.

All of the building’s wastewater is flowing through the Eco-Machine, and the machine’s plant life is lush and spectacular.  Assistant Professor Anthony McInnis (PhD-NR ’11) and Matt Beam (NR ’06, MS-NR ’10), RSENR research technician and the Eco-Machine’s caretaker, are busy, with student interns, setting up the adjoining laboratory that will be used to maintain and conduct research on the Eco-Machine.

Up on the green roof, the plant material, installed in the fall by faculty, staff, and students, is dormant and awaiting spring, but during winter thaws, the eight tipping buckets visible on the third floor have been functioning with drainage of roof snowmelt.  As water gushes into the plexi-glass buckets, it reminds building occupants about the living green roof and how the building is working to minimize water waste and unnecessary runoff.  “Even in the winter,” observes Research Associate Gary Hawley (FOR ’78, MS-FOR ’83), “there are visible treatment differences between the non-vegetated roof watersheds, which cause the buckets to tip quite often with snowmelt, compared to the vegetated watersheds.” A data logger will soon allow public internet access to tipping bucket performance.

A proposal submitted by the Rubenstein School and written by Gary was chosen as one of six semi-finalists in UVM’s student-funded Clean Energy Fund 2013 proposal competition designed to advance renewable energy research, education, and infrastructure on campus. RSENR proposed the installation of more solar trackers to add to the 17 trackers currently located at the U.S. Forest Service Lab on Spear Street.  Additional trackers would supply another third of the energy needed to power the Aiken Center with the ultimate goal to eventually achieve net zero energy for the building (zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually).  A final decision on project awards will be announced during Earth Week in April.

The School eagerly awaits announcement of the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Design) certification rating for the Aiken Center.  We expect that once the certification process is finalized, Aiken will be classified LEED Platinum, the highest ranking attainable.  The announcement should be made by early April.