University of Vermont

University Communications

Energy-Efficient Aiken Center Offically Opened at Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Governor Peter Shumlin, Dean Mary Watzin and Lola Aiken (center) cut the ribbon at the official opening of UVM's newly renovated George D. Aiken Center. (Photo: Sally McCay)

Lola Aiken officially opened the refurbished George D. Aiken Center, one of the most energy-efficient renovations in higher education, at a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 27. The building, home to UVM's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, was re-opened with all four past and present deans of the Rubenstein School and its predecessor, the School of Natural Resources, in attendance.  

Aiken, a few months shy of her 100th birthday, cut the ribbon with a pair of scissors at the building's front entrance on the Davis Center oval almost 30 years after her late husband, former Vermont governor and U.S. senator George D. Aiken, did the same with a pocket knife.

 "I handed him a pair of scissors to cut the ribbon, and he pulled out a knife and cut it with that instead," recalled Hugo John, the school's original dean, with a laugh. “At the time we were scattered across campus in five different buildings so we said, 'Let’s mend these environmental disciplines into one building so we can address problems holistically.' We thought we were putting together a pretty good building, which it was for those days, but conceptually this new building is where we wanted to go so we could really practice what we were teaching and practicing."

Also speaking at the event were governor Peter Shumlin; John Bramley, UVM interim president; Mark Biedron, chair of the Rubenstein School board of advisers; Mary Watzin, Rubenstein School dean; Gary Hawley, a faculty member at the Rubenstein School; Matt Beam, a graduate student there; and representatives from Senator Patrick Leahy’s, Senator Bernie Sanders’ and Congressman Peter Welch’s offices.

“We have an absolutely incredible building that makes a bold statement about our collective commitment to the environment and the future of our planet,” said Watzin. “This project began more than a decade ago when Dean Don DeHayes and a dedicated group of others began to dream of a cutting-edge building that would match our curriculum and our research programs. Through the perseverance of our faculty, our staff, our students, our board of advisers, friends and the support of all of our presidents, past and current, and our board of trustees, we made that dream a reality.”

At the ceremony, the Aiken Center’s “dashboard” display, exhibiting data gathered by more than 200 sensors in the building, made its debut. Also on display for the first time was the building's "eco-machine." The initial planting was recently completed; the wetlands-like system is expected to come online during the summer. After the ceremony, attendees were given a tour of the building led by Rubenstein School students and faculty and by UVM staff involved in its design and construction. 

Bramley praised faculty for embedding elements of the project into their teaching. “The result," he said, "is a wonderful facility that has already earned national recognition as a sustainability showcase and is the model for retrofitting aging and inefficient buildings in ways that use resources efficiently and reduce operating costs."

The Aiken Center is modeled to be 62 percent more energy efficient than the original building, constructed in 1982, reducing its energy use from 89 kBTU’s per square foot per year, the standard measure of a building’s energy use, to 34, despite adding air conditioning, which the original building lacked. That makes the building, designed by Maclay Architects of Waitsfield, Vt., one of the most energy-efficient renovations in the United States, and perhaps the most efficient rehab on a college campus, according to experts at the New Buildings Institute, which recently completed a study of the 50 most energy-efficient, retrofitted building the U.S. and Australia.

The building also boasts a variety of green features, in addition to the sensor and dashboard display and eco-machine: a green roof with eight separate watersheds; twenty-seven thousand board feet of Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood paneling from nine different tree species; a 50 percent increase in the size of existing windows and significant addition of new ones; separate systems for heating/cooling the building and ventilating it; installation of 17 solar trackers associated with the building and locally sourced building materials. The building’s design also benefitted from significant input from students.

Governor Shumlin said Aiken would have been “extraordinarily proud of this example of saving our planet and ensuring that future generations survive with less carbon being burned, less oil being burned, more jobs staying in Vermont and a strong renewable energy future that consumes less and preserves the planet.

“Frankly that’s what George Aiken cared most about; he cared deeply about our natural resources,” continued Shumlin. “He was happier in the field, in the orchard, in the garden, in the forest, than he was in capitols in Montpelier or capitols in Washington D.C. The extraordinary thing about this project and the leadership at UVM, the best research university in America, is to have the foresight to understand that the Rubenstein School and our future is dependent upon leadership that requires us not to talk but to act, and that’s what this extraordinary act of energy efficiency is.”