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Living Green: New Residence Halls Will Bring Sustainability Into Students' Daily Lives

Two new residence halls slated for construction in 2009 will combine living, learning and sustainability.

Pomona usually quiets to a peaceful yet active hum right after Commencement, but in 2009, the ground will be breaking in more than one way when construction begins on two new residence halls and an underground parking garage.

The new buildings, which will add 150 new beds for juniors and seniors, will be located on the northeast edge of campus near Clark I, bordering Amherst Road between Sixth Street and Eighth Street, and the garage will be located below Athearn Field and one of the halls. The construction project, which the Board of Trustees approved in October, doesn’t just add new beds and 265 parking spaces to campus, but green living spaces that will be Pomona's newest models of sustainability.

Planning for the environmentally friendly buildings began last fall, and students were heavily involved in the process. A task force of students, faculty and staff met frequently, and four information sessions were held at the dining halls to involve students. More than 500 students responded to an online survey on the project, and the task force and Erlich Architects visited 11 other colleges to view their residence halls. Sustainability consulting firm CTG Energetics was also on hand for a presentation with students, and three dinners were held with students last summer to keep them informed of the project’s progress.

Some elements, like four-, five- and six-student suites; kitchens and lounges on each floor; and a hammock garden, came directly from student input. “We’ve taken into account ideas and initiatives the students have had—simple ones like drying racks in laundry rooms to more nuanced ones like how to visibly monitor energy usage in buildings,” says Miriam Feldblum, vice president and dean of students.

Learning and living in a sustainable way is a major goal. The aim is to not just have the buildings LEED gold certified, but to go even further. “From educational signs talking about the fixtures and building features to making it clear that the ceiling fans are supposed to be the ‘first line of attack’ in cooling your room, students will be expected to adopt new behaviors in engaging first-hand with the environmental impacts of the campus and their residence hall,” says Sustainability Coordinator Bowen Patterson ’06.

One building will have a rooftop garden, and the other will have a sustainability demonstration area, where students and the campus community can learn about the features of the building. The buildings will also house the Outdoor Adventure office, a campus-wide lounge, one staff apartment and three visiting faculty apartments.

Many sustainability efforts will be chugging away in the background of students’ lives, from renewable furnishing materials and solar thermal hot water heating to redirecting storm water back into the Wash, rather than the sewer system, and window sensors and other efforts to reduce air conditioning use. A drip irrigation and water recovery system will drastically reduce the amount of potable water needed to irrigate Athearn Field, which will now be above the underground parking garage. Other efforts are still in the planning stages.

“I’m really excited that Pomona has committed to building LEED Gold residence halls,” says Chelsea Hodge ’09, a member of the task force. “In this day and age, it simply doesn’t make sense to build any other way.”


Getting Together

Community is also an important facet of the new buildings, from the suite-style living spaces to a kitchen and lounge on each floor, rather than one per building. “That wasn’t something in the original mandate, but students really wanted to have a more intimate space to cook with their fellow students,” says Feldblum.    Hodge says that Lawry and Oldenborg are two of the most popular dorms on campus because of their suites. “Students really enjoy having a common space with couches to do work and hang out with their friends. It’s hard to have a real get-together in most dorm rooms since most aren’t big enough to fit anything more than a bed and a loveseat,” says Hodge.

Having faculty apartments in upper-class dorms is also a way to enhance community, via student-faculty interaction and promoting residential community.

“It’s thinking about residence halls not as dorms, places where students go to sleep,” says Feldblum, “but more as places where students live and learn.”

The Architecture

Ehrlich Architects, which was heavily involved with the task force, visiting all the current residence and dining halls and meeting with students, studied the Pomona campus, taking into account the style of other campus buildings, including their sense of outdoor space, use of materials, proportion and scale.

“The Pomona campus has been developed over the years as a series of well-defined open spaces,” says Charles Warner Oakley, FAIA, principal with Ehrlich Architects.

“The new residence halls follow and enhance this pattern by forming a well-defined edge for the northeast of the campus, enclosing Athearn Field, thus giving it a new relationship to the campus, forming a plaza between the two new buildings, and creating a series of distinct outdoor spaces between the southern [residence hall] and the Lowry complex.”

The building that is the closest architectural example to the new halls is Clark I. Elements like the concrete walls with deep-set windows and the windows on top which create a lighter-weight expression above the concrete are mimicked. The roof overhang of the new buildings, says Oakley, creates a distinct base-middle-top which is a classic formal strategy used by many of the older buildings on campus.

“We know that the combination of these architectural elements, and a myriad of other, small details, will create residence halls that feel as if they belong to, and further enhance, the Pomona College campus,” says Oakley.