University of Vermont

University Communications

Renovated Aiken Center Loaded with Environmental Features

Aiken staircase
Whenever possible, locally sourced building materials were used in the newly renovated Aiken Center, including wood from UVM's Jericho Research Forest and boulders from both the construction site and Jonesville, Vt. (Photo: Sally McCay)

The renovated George D. Aiken Center on the University of Vermont campus is perhaps the most energy efficient renovation in American higher education. But energy efficiency is far from its only exemplary green attribute.

Other environmental features include:

  • An eco-machine for treating the building’s waste water.  The eco-machine, which mimics the natural wastewater treatment of a wetlands, will be located in Aiken’s solarium. All of the building’s waste water will be treated in the system. Aiken’s eco-machine installation is unique in that three separate systems – or waste water “trains” – will be operated, so researchers can compare the effectiveness of different species of bacteria, plants and fish in breaking down organic matter. The eco-machine was designed over a five-year period by UVM graduate student Matt Beam, who worked under the guidance of UVM faculty member John Todd and local engineer David Whitney. Todd invented the eco-machine in the early 1980s and has overseen installations around the world. 
  • A green roof with eight separate watersheds.  The watersheds are designed to measure what combination of plants and soil does the best job of absorbing storm water and removing pollutants. Each of the watersheds, grouped in three experimental pairs with two controls, will drain into a measuring system that will record how much rainfall was absorbed during a storm and store the water for chemical analysis. One wetland pair will use plants and soils used in conventional green roofs; another will alter the plant selection, and a third will alter the soil. The experimental green roof is the first of its kind.  
  • Twenty-seven thousand board feet of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood paneling from nine different tree species. The wood was harvested at UVM’s sustainably managed Jericho Research Forest, in Jericho, Vt. According to Watzin, the wood is not only an attractive interior design element, it is intended to make the research forest a tangible and real connection between the paneling and the research forest and explain the process of how wood becomes certified. 
  • A 50 percent increase in the size of existing windows and significant addition of new ones. The resulting increase in daylight, combined with the fact that windows are triple pane, significantly reduces the building’s electricity use. The building is designed so all offices and classrooms either have direct natural light or window access to rooms that do. Many rooms in the original had no windows.
  • Separate systems for heating/cooling the building and ventilating it. Aiken will bring heated or cooled fresh air into a room only when CO2 sensors situated throughout the building say it is needed. In comparison, conventional systems that combine air treatment and ventilation heat or cool much more outside air than is needed, driving up energy use. The system also has an energy recovery ventilator, which recovers heating or cooling from the air as it is leaving the building. 
  • Installation of 17 solar trackers associated with the building. The trackers, located at the U.S. Forest Service on Spear Street in South Burlington, were installed as part of the project, using funds from UVM’s Clean Energy Fund. When the electricity they produce is taken into account, the Aiken Center’s energy performance is modeled to be 25 kBTU’s per square foot per year.  Maclay calls Aiken a “net-zero-ready” building, meaning its low energy use could be relatively easily offset with the use of renewables like the solar trackers. More renewables may be added in the future. 
  •  More than 200 sensors implanted in the building. The sensors measure everything from heat loss through the roof to use of steam from the central heating plant to water and electricity use. Much of the data will be displayed on a dashboard at the building’s entrance. Watzin hopes the monitors, dashboard and other data displays will create a “Prius” effect that promotes environmental behavior. As an example, green and amber lights will alert occupants when it is desirable from an energy efficiency standpoint to open windows or keep them closed.
  • Significant input from students. More than 400 UVM students over nearly 10 years played a vital role in decisions related to the project, from helping select Maclay Architects as the architectural firm to providing input on where to place sensors. Students will continue to play a role – in operating and monitoring the performance of both the green roof and the eco-machine – for instance.
  • Locally sourced building materials. Whenever possible, the building makes use of building products that were sourced in Vermont. The bricks came from Vermont Brick Manufacturing in Highgate Center, Vt. Boulders used for seating in the building came mostly from a gravel pit in Jonesville, Vt., but a few were unearthed from the Aiken construction site. In addition to the wood paneling from the Jericho Research Forest, wood for the table in third floor conference room came from the woods surrounding the Rokeby Museum in Vergennes. 
  • The materials, like the terrazzo used in the flooring, and blue and green color scheme for the building reflect the earth, water, air, and forest resources Rubenstein School students are trained to protect.