St. Olaf College | News

Students think green to renovate campus building

Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg (left) shows students some of the elements that will make the remodeled basement of Boe Chapel more sustainable.

It’s a classic idea. A house on your own piece of land, complete with a white picket fence.

But how much do we think about the impact of our dwellings?

Students in the newly created environmental studies course Green Buildings and Green Remodeling hope to not only change how we think about our residences, but plan on making the changes themselves as they look to remodel one of St. Olaf’s campus houses in the summer of 2014.

The course, co-taught by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department Paul Jackson ’92 and Assistant Vice President for Facilities Pete Sandberg, explores the ecological, cultural, and social challenges associated with the structures we call home.

“We are focusing our efforts on understanding the environmental issues related to a typical single family home built in the last century, and how it might become a new symbol for environmental consciousness as we consider remodeling options rooted in ecological design,” says Jackson.

Using ‘place-based’ learning
The class is using recent renovation and construction projects at St. Olaf to guide its discussions, including visits to the recently renovated Flaten Art Barn and the remodeled basement of Boe Chapel, as well as conversations with a variety of faculty, staff, professionals, and homeowners.

“Our journey together will use St. Olaf as a case study,” says Jackson. “With such an array of uses and structures, how should the college think about managing these components of its infrastructure moving forward? After all, they are important pieces of the campus community.”

The course is certainly designed to get student thinking about their environment.

“It integrates campus life, sustainability, and academics,” says Will Lutterman ’15, a student taking the course. “The method we are using is centered around ‘place-based learning.’ That is, learning from your surroundings, being curious, innovative, sustainable, and adaptable.”

Students in a newly created environmental studies course led by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the Environmental Studies Department Paul Jackson ’92 (far left) will help remodel a campus house this summer.

From classroom to construction
At the end of the semester, students will take their ideas on green remodeling and apply them to the Swanson House, which is currently being used as a Norwegian language house. The class will split into teams, each of which will focus their efforts on developing a redesign for the house.

Students will then present their ideas to an audience that will include Sandberg, Director of Residence Life Pamela McDowell, and Assistant Directors of Facilities Bill Nelson and Gregg Menning.

“Part of me doesn’t believe that the school is letting a class make such huge decisions about one of its buildings,” says Aubrey Tyler ’14. “That really shows how much St. Olaf values experiential learning. The college is willing to let a bunch of students have this building for the sake of learning and teaching the community. That’s amazing.”

“This course is unique in the way that it emphasizes this ‘placeness’ and how it uses St. Olaf as a ‘lab’ for experimental learning,” adds Lutterman.

St. Olaf Facilities will provide funds for renovation work to begin on the Swanson House this summer. Jackson plans on having students from the course work on the home alongside professional staff in order to fully implement the ideas and goals from the course into an ecologically minded renovation.

“We hope participants will never look at a house the same way again, and see that the products from their classes make direct impacts on the lives of others, including the pursuit of environmental problem-solving,” says Jackson.