Final Report: The Green Renovation and Expansion of the Aiken Center: A Sustainable Green Building Design, Collaborative Planning Process and Long-Term Demonstration and Research Project

EPA Grant Number: EM833072
Title: The Green Renovation and Expansion of the Aiken Center: A Sustainable Green Building Design, Collaborative Planning Process and Long-Term Demonstration and Research Project
Investigators: Watzin, Mary C.
Institution: The Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2009 (Extended to December 31, 2012)
Project Amount: $867,800
RFA: Targeted Research Grant (2006) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Targeted Research


The goal of this project was to renovate the George D. Aiken Center, headquarters for the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR), using cutting edge green design principles, demonstrating what could be done and establishing research systems in the building that could serve the faculty, staff and students at the University of Vermont into the future.  The objectives of the project were as follows:

  1. Quantify energy and water use in the pre-renovation Aiken Center and identify energy efficient options for the renovation.
  1. Estimate the efficiency of alternative energy sources to better understand alternative energy’s potential contribution to the green Aiken Center’s energy needs.
  1. Identify and install state-of-the-art high performance equipment and infrastructure necessary to achieve U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED platinum requirements and to fulfill the educational/demonstration goals of the project.
  1. Install numerous monitoring sensors in the renovated/expanded building to document performance of new vs. old materials and equipment.
  1. Involve undergraduate students, graduate students and the RSENR community in all aspects of planning and implementation of the renovation project. 

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The project took much longer than expected because it was put on hold in 2008 as a result of the economic downturn.  The project was put back on track in the fall of 2009 and, since restarting the project, we adhered to a very aggressive schedule as follows:

  • UVM Project Re-start: Summer 2009
  • Revised Schematic Design and Cost Estimating: Fall 2009
  • Revised Design Development Phase: Winter 2009/2010
  • Construction Documents/Obtaining of State and Local Permits: Spring 2010
  • Bidding and Asbestos Abatement: Summer 2010
  • Construction and Renovation: Fall 2010-Fall 2011
  • Occupancy: Winter 2012

In January 2012, The Rubenstein School moved back into the completed building and the University currently is in the commissioning phase of the project.  The University of Vermont (UVM) Office of Facilities Design and Construction, Maclay Architects of Waitsfield, VT, and Linda Samter, LEED AP, an alumnus of the RSENR, have worked closely with the RSENR faculty, staff, and students to design and document green and energy saving features with the goal of obtaining a LEED Platinum rating for the building.  We are optimistic we can achieve this goal, and if so, this renovated building would be the first of that level of USGBC LEED certification at UVM, where the minimum standard is LEED Silver Certification.

Building design features included the following: 

  • Solarium Addition: An addition on the south side of the existing building that includes a new entrance and a Solarium that is an inviting and light filled space incorporating water features and plants to provide an appropriate entrance to the School, a place for gatherings, and informal activities such as small group meetings and study.
  • Eco-Machine: An experimental living system or “eco-machine,” designed to treat all of the waste from the restrooms and kitchen area and to act as a research tool for systems that treat human waste using a natural process. An adjacent space in the existing building has been designed as a lab to support the Eco-Machine.
  • Exterior Envelope: With assistance from Maclay Architects and Gale Associates of Boston, MA, UVM determined that the best course of action was to remove all of the existing brick cladding and thermally inefficient windows. The new exterior will greatly increase the R-Value of the building envelope.
  • Green Roof: Incorporate a green roof on the existing building using a tray system to meet the loading capacity of the existing structure.  The existing roof area was subdivided into eight drainage areas, or watersheds, where rain water flows can be measured and analyzed.
  • Alternative Renewable Energy: The RSENR, working in concert with the UVM Clean Energy Fund, installed 17 photovoltaic panels mounted on platforms that rotate to follow the path of the sun to gain maximum exposure (solar trackers). The solar tracker array is located at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Facility at UVM which is shared by the Forest Service and RSENR. The installation will produce at least 17% of the electricity to be used in the renovated and expanded Aiken Center.
  • Energy Management: The building’s existing energy management system was expanded significantly to monitor many aspects of energy use such as steam and chilled water and to gather the data through the use of a dashboard system similar to the system installed in the Davis Student Center several years ago. The dashboard system will enable real time reporting of energy consumption to users on monitors in the building, to the UVM Physical Plant, and by remote access. 


Energy Efficiency - The renovated 40,000 sq. ft. George D. Aiken Center has dramatically improved energy efficiency.  UVM was able to achieve these energy improvements because we completely redid the building envelope.  The new building envelope has greatly improved insulation R-values, new energy efficient fiberglass windows, and new brick cladding and insulated metal siding. Our new exterior is almost air-tight and our energy models show a 62% increase in energy-efficiency compared to the original building, reducing energy use from 89 kBTUs per square foot per year, to 34, despite adding air conditioning, which the original building lacked. The projected energy saving qualifies Aiken as a “deep energy retrofit,” defined as a renovated building that reduces energy by at least 30 percent over the original structure. 

The renovated Aiken Center is one of the first such buildings on a college campus and, according to the New Buildings Institute, which recently completed a study of 50 deep energy retrofits in the United States and Australia, one of only a small number in the United States.  The focus of attention in the green building movement on college campuses has been new buildings despite the fact that the far greater need from an energy perspective is renovations.  The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the average building in higher education uses 120 kBTUs per square foot per year, a very high energy consumption, and there are more than 3.48 billion square feet of existing space on college campuses. The lessons learned about how to focus renovations on energy efficiency and insulation in this project are entirely transferable to other renovation projects across the country. 

To determine the best use of resources to address energy efficiency, the University first evaluated the building’s brick exterior.  Although the bricks looked fine cosmetically, they were significantly deteriorated behind the external façade.  By removing the bricks, UVM was able to insulate the exterior of the building. This is a much more effective method than insulating a building’s interior, as is usually done in renovations.  

Our models of cost-benefit took a long-term perspective. The extra cost of doing a deep energy retrofit of the Aiken Center over simply addressing deferred maintenance issues was $381,000 (on a $13 million project).  Based on the original 40% energy savings, the models of the renovated building predicted the payback period —assuming fuel prices will rise at the rate of inflation, two percent—was 13 years.  At a 5% rise in fuel prices, the payback drops to 11 years.  Given that the renovation is designed for at least a 50-year life, and that energy costs are all but certain to rise substantially, the decision to invest now was more than justified.  

Other Unique Environmental Features – The building includes a number of other unique environmental features. 

  • The eco-machine for treating the building’s waste water.  The eco-machine, which mimics the natural wastewater treatment of a wetland, will treat all of the building’s waste water.  Aiken’s eco-machine installation is unique in that there are three separate systems – or waste water treatment “trains” – so researchers can compare the effectiveness of different living systems.  The eco-machine is currently being brought on line.  Research beginning later this year will address which species of bacteria, plants and fish are most effective in breaking down organic matter.
  • A green roof with eight separate watersheds.  The watersheds are designed to measure which combinations of plants and soil do 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 (FSC)-certified wood paneling from nine different tree species. The wood was harvested at UVM’s sustainably managed Jericho Research Forest, about 10 miles from campus. The wood is not only an attractive interior design element, but also makes a tangible and real connection between the research forest and the Aiken Center.  A display in the building explains 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 building 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. 
  • 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.  By following occupant behavior, the RSENR hopes to investigate whether the dashboard and other data displays promote 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • Unique building design. The terrazzo used in the flooring, as well as the blue and green color scheme for the building, reflect the earth, water, air, and forest resources Rubenstein School students are trained to protect.

The Aiken Center has gone from a building that was an environmental embarrassment to one that inspires the RSENR faculty, staff, and students to do their best work every time they walk through the doors.  The research elements of the building will document the performance of construction methods and materials, and provide new data on the design of living systems technologies and how well green roof tray systems work in northern climates. 

LEED Status – The University of Vermont is currently targeting the achievement of 59 credits, strongly suggesting that a certification level of Platinum will be achieved. Four Innovation in Design credits are included in the 59, addressing such topics as educational signage and the generation on an adjacent site of more than 17.5% of the building’s total energy use.  All five Water Efficiency credits are anticipated to be accepted, including Innovative Wastewater Technologies with the installation of the eco-machine which will treat 100% of the grey and black water generated in the building.  All ten possible credits available for EA c.1 for Optimize Energy Performance are anticipated, and nearly all Indoor Environmental Quality credits are anticipated to be met as well.  Once the research-based green roof is completely installed in late summer and early fall, the project will be submitted to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) for certification.

Enhanced Commissioning Activities - At the I0-month point of occupancy, (October 2012), the operation of the system and components will be critically reviewed by the Commissioning Authority and UVM to identify any items that should be repaired or replaced under warranty.   The next task in the commissioning process is the convening of a “lessons learned“ workshop in November or December 2012. The intent of this workshop is to bring back all of the key personnel on the project (owner, A/E, contractors, O&M staff, and occupants) to identify means of improving the next project.  This meeting will be facilitated by a non-project entity (Hallam-ICS, but not any of the key project staff, since all parties that are involved with the building must be participants).

Additionally, the University of Vermont is submitting for the LEED EA C. 5, Measurement and Verification credit. The purpose of meeting this credit’s requirements is to assist in maintaining and verifying the energy efficient operation of the Aiken Center’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing and controls systems.

The University of Vermont chose International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP), Option D to establish a baseline energy model using the results of building energy simulation software, calibrated with base year conditions, to verify the implementation effectiveness of the Energy Conservation Measures (ECM).  The energy model will be recalibrated after one full year of occupancy and the savings calculated between the building design with ECMs and the same design without ECMs. The Aiken Center project includes a new utility meter, sub-metering, and applicable system monitoring (in the Building Management System) to record, trend and report the actual building performance against the simulated model.  The reports will be used to verify the savings between a baseline building without Energy Conservation Measures and the building as designed. 

The M&V process will be repeated in subsequent years comparing actual data with the calibrated model to verify system performance and savings are continuing to be realized. To ensure that savings remain in place, the building operating staff will regularly report the status of the key operating parameters that were used in the calibration simulation model. If operating conditions change, the savings will not be adjusted since they are computed at a fixed set of conditions.

Student Involvement – From 2006 right through 2012, faculty, staff and students have been involved in all phases of the planning and design process. In 2010, students and faculty worked together to submit a proposal to the UVM Clean Energy Fund, which provided the resources for the 17 solar trackers that are part of the project.  Each spring, our “Greening of Aiken” interns have selected projects that provide information useful to our renovation.  In the early years of our grant, students monitored water and energy use in the building.  These data were used to design the eco-machine and to support the development of the energy model for the project. Students researched LEED point options and planned the landscaping that will surround the building.  Our forestry students have worked with our Green Forestry Coordinator to select the trees that were harvested from the Rubenstein School’s Jericho Research Forest for the wood finishes in the building.  All of the wood used in the Aiken Center is FSC - certified. 

Students also helped plan the green roof and assisted with the development of our eco-machine.  The eco-machine was designed over a five-year period by UVM graduate student Matthew 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. 

Since Aiken has been occupied, students are assisting with documentation of the building’s green features, exploring options for ongoing interpretation of the building’s green features, and continuing to work on the landscaping plan for the outside spaces.

The Greening of Aiken interns have completed projects every spring from 2007 through 2012.  Starting with a class size of just 6 but now averaging 30, students have worked on such varied topics as landscape design, renewable energy options, waste management, and vermicomposting.  Some examples of projects include:

Aiken Landscape Design Project, Spring 2010:  Students surveyed the Rubenstein community to aid in the creation of an aesthetically pleasing and environmentally sound landscape plan that was representative of the goals and values of the community. The results of this project were the basis for the landscaping plan that is part of the final project.  Students will help with plantings in fall 2012. 

Solarium Ecosystem Initial Planting Plan, Spring 2011-2012:  Students identified potential aquatic and terrestrial plants for use in the Aiken solarium. They helped design the beds, put the plants in place, and have taken care of the plants since the RSENR moved into the building. 

Moving Towards Zero Waste, Spring 2012:  This plan was developed by the students to minimize waste throughout the Aiken Center.  Students conducted waste audits to determine areas in need of improvement, and the results have been used to make recommendations to the community on ways to reduce waste.

Aiken Rooftop Meteorological Monitoring Station, Spring 2012:  This project involves the creation of a meteorological station to collect basic weather and Aiken green roof research data. The station was installed in late spring and will begin collecting continuous data in the fall 2012 semester.

Vermicomposting, 2010 – 2012:  An active project since 2010, vermicomposting uses worms to create a mixture of decomposing food waste that can be used as fertile, nutrient rich compost. There are currently collection bins throughout the building used by students, faculty and staff and maintained by the Greening of Aiken interns.  All waste is brought to a central composting bin maintained by the students. 

Green Roof Project, 2010 – 2012:  Designed for testing micro-watershed strategies for stormwater management, the green roof project has been in development for many years.  In 2010, Greening of Aiken interns did research to produce a list of potential native green roof plants.  In 2011, students developed the green roof treatments, various combinations of soils, soil amendments, and plants. Finally, the installation of the green roof will be completed in fall 2012.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 3 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

  living systems technologies, deep energy retrofit, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Sustainable Industry/Business, POLLUTION PREVENTION, Sustainable Environment, Energy, Technology for Sustainable Environment, Environmental Engineering, energy conservation, sustainable housing, education, environmental conscious construction, environmental sustainability, green building design, energy efficiency

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Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2007 Progress Report
  • 2008
  • 2009
  • 2010
  • 2011
  • 2012