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May 19, 2011

Bechtel Environmental Classroom Designed to Earn World’s Toughest Green Building Rating

In early September, Smith College will break ground on the 2,300-square-foot learning center at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in Whately. The facility is scheduled for completion in May 2012.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – If all goes as anticipated, when Smith College opens the new Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station in Whately next year, the only thing it will draw is attention.

Drawing upon external water or energy supplies for the building is, quite literally, not in the plans.

Smith partnered with Coldham & Hartman Architects of Amherst to design a 2,300-square-foot building that will meet the most rigorous green building criteria in the world.


The college aims to achieve the Living Building Challenge, a certification that will require the Bechtel Environmental Classroom to generate all of its own energy with renewable resources, and develop its own water system. To meet these goals, the design includes such features as a high efficiency building with a solar array and self-composting toilets.

Smith is slated to break ground for the center at the 200-acre field station in September and complete the building by May 2012. Funded by the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, the single-story L-shaped center will include a seminar space, multipurpose room, instructional lab and an outdoor gathering space with a view of the Holyoke Range.

“This will be not only a wonderful new facility on a spectacular site but also a source of a number of significant achievements in the area of sustainability and environmental studies,” said John Davis, associate provost. “From dancers and poets to biologists and geologists, we expect Smith students and faculty to lead the way in exploring the educational opportunities of this exciting new building.”

As part of classes that span a variety of disciplines, Smith students will play an integral role in designing and implementing many aspects of the design to earn the Living Building Challenge.

In conjunction with the architects, students have already built and tested a model of the building to be certain that it will be possible to illuminate the indoor space during the day entirely with natural light through strategic window placement.

After it opens, students will be responsible for monthly calculations to document that the structure is a net-zero facility – meaning it generates more energy than it uses.

After a full year of occupancy, the building will be audited to determine if the Living Building Challenge has been achieved. Because the challenge requires solutions that address the local environment, the design can be monitored, tested and reassessed over time with the involvements of Smith’s students, faculty and staff.

In addition to its environmental features, the design takes into account the history of the region. The lumber for the building will be obtained on site, by recycling used local lumber or by acquiring newly harvested lumber certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Smith purchased the tract in the 1970s as an observatory site for the astronomy department and officially dedicated the property for field study in May 2008.



Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Kristen Cole
Media Relations Director
T (413) 585-2190

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