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New London Hall is going green

Engineers installed a 500-foot test well in the northeast corner of Tempel Green to confirm that a geothermal system was an option for the new Science Center.
Engineers installed a 500-foot test well in the northeast corner of Tempel Green to confirm that a geothermal system was an option for the new Science Center.

Tempel Green, with its stunning view of Long Island Sound, has always been one of Connecticut College's greatest assets.

Turns out it has even more to offer.

The energy in the ground underneath the Green is going to heat -- and cool -- the new Science Center at New London Hall. It's one of several energy-saving technologies being incorporated into the building.

In simple terms, the geothermal system will circulate water through pipes hundreds of feet beneath the grass, where the temperature is always 55 degrees, into the building and then back to the Green for cooling.

The technology is well-established, but recent advances have dramatically expanded where and how such systems can be installed efficiently. The cost to the College is $1 million, about $400,000 more than a conventional HVAC system. With savings in energy costs, the geothermal system will pay for itself in about six years, said Stephen J. George, the College's manager of planning, design and construction.

The College is recognized nationally for its sustainability initiatives, including its green building practices, and has strengthened its commitment by establishing a Sustainability Steering Committee charged with developing a long-term, comprehensive plan.

"Not only are we committed to building a green campus by employing best practices and technology like the geothermal system, we're also committed to setting an example for our students," said Roger Brooks, dean of the faculty and chair of the Sustainability Steering Committee. "We believe that our efforts will impress upon them the importance of living their lives in an environmentally sustainable way."

George said the committee planning the new Science Center investigated geothermal as it weighed different options for heating and cooling.

He said the payback is relatively short because this building -- like most science facilities -- has high needs for heating and cooling. The system has to circulate large volumes of air, cool equipment, and regulate temperatures for experiments as well as for plants in the adjacent greenhouse.

Engineers have installed a 500-foot well in the northeast corner of the Green to confirm the temperature of the earth and are now testing water flow to see how many wells have to be dug to meet the needs of the building. George said engineers think it will be about 45. The wells will cover about a quarter of the upper Green.

Workers will begin digging those wells in late October after Centennial Fall Weekend -- leaving the Green intact for the culminating celebration of the College's 100th birthday. The area will be reseeded after the wells are completed, leaving no visible trace of what is underground. The grass should be back in time for Commencement on the Green in May.

George said he is excited that Tempel Green will be put to such good use.

"We knew from the beginning it was possible," he said. "You've got that big field with nothing on it. It's perfect for geothermal."

When an analysis showed that the system could work and made sense financially, the College decided to move forward, he added.

In addition to the earth-friendly heating system, the College is using local materials for the Science Center, reusing wooden trim and floors and incorporating features that will save on electrical use, with the goal of applying for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The renovation of Silfen Auditorium in nearby Bill Hall recently earned LEED certification at the silver level, and the College has also applied for certification of the new fitness center.    

August 17, 2011

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