• Building on the future: VTC students invest in design initiative
     | January 28,2013
    Kathryn Eddy Photo

    Design team members, left to right, Monica Alsup, Matthew Allen and Heather Boyd discuss some of their designs at Vermont Technical College in Randolph.

    RANDOLPH — The enterprising students in the Low Impact Design/Build Initiative (LIDI) project at Vermont Technical College are shaping the future.

    Working with the Center for Sustainable Practices, out of which LIDI was first conceived, nine students are donating their time and expertise in the hope their efforts will become an investment for many tomorrows.

    “It’s purely extracurricular and on top of all of our other courses,” says Blaine D. Conner, 22.

    Conner is a senior who will be graduating in the fall with a dual degree in engineering technology and sustainable design and technology.

    “It means that everyone involved is committed, which creates some really great energy, but it’s often a barrier for some students,” he says. “It’s a challenge; most of our degree programs are scheduled to have a lot of class and lab time. Some of our members have children and families and other lives and it’s difficult to incorporate them, even though we feel it’s really important to have them there.”

    The concept for the Center for Sustainable Practices started coming together about six years ago and its first director, Donna Barlow Casey, 57, has been focusing on getting the CSP established for the last three years.

    Her first major task was renovating the Allen House, an 1800s federal-style brick house, which serves as the CSP headquarters, while using it as a way to model and practice sustainability in the context of a technical college and its related degree programs.

    “We wanted push the envelope on renovating historic housing, which is most of our housing stock in Vermont. The goal is to maintain historic features and accuracies and have it be a high-energy efficient building — the two are often in conflict,” says Casey. “We try to take on these projects and develop these opportunities for continued research or applied research and modeling.”

    Currently, CSP is helping with the construction of a 375-kilowatt bio-digester facility, which would generate heat and electricity from a recipe of manure from VTC’s farm, and others in the area, in combination with waste crops and residual material waste from commercial food processing.

    The bio-digester has been in the works for about seven years and Casey says they should be breaking ground in May with the hope it will be operational before December. She says it has potential for expansion and eventually they may try to permit it for using the residuals or food scraps from their own cafeteria.

    In addition to facilitating large-scale demonstration projects, the center puts on film series to create dialogue about environmental issues in many different fields.

    “We like to bring in community members with the students and mix those audiences up,” Casey says. “We are trying to push the experience of students on campus beyond the classroom. We’re really small and just starting out, but we have some big ideas.”

    From that emerges an effort to foster and support student-led projects that are tied to themes or trends related to both sustainability and the degree programs VTC offers.

    “The shepherding concept takes a little while; we have to figure out who’s involved, how the projects manifest themselves now and in the long term, how can they be institutionalized so others can follow, but at the same time keep them fresh,” Casey adds.

    LIDI is just such a project and it’s the first of its kind at VTC. The inspiration for LIDI was the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition. The Solar Decathlon is a challenge to collegiate students to design and build solar-powered houses that are energy efficient, yet cost effective and aesthetically appealing to the general public.

    “Another student who has since graduated and I took that project framework as rules and guidance to develop our own program here at VTC, where we have a diverse set of students of all ages and really varying backgrounds,” Conner says. “We wanted to get all these people together and attack some of the issues that Vermont is facing right now, especially in housing.”

    LIDI will run on a biennial schedule, to mirror that of the Solar Decathlon, and Conner says he hopes that future students in the program will be able to enter their designs into the competition.

    “There’s a lot of new construction going on, especially in Chittenden County. Instead of just building the same old thing we wanted to leverage all the different degree programs to come up with a really good solution,” he says. “We had to look at all the facets of what makes a good building last a long time, be energy efficient, durable, affordable and accessible to Vermonters.”

    Typically at VTC, students have a senior project for which they do a lighting design, HVAC design or a structural design. But, according to Conner, there has never been a project on campus that not only incorporates all of those elements into a final product, but one that will actually be built and serve as an educational tool.

    The building site has been picked on campus, though they don’t yet have a dedicated source of funding. But once it’s built it will serve as a living laboratory for students to see how the systems work in a small residential home.

    “We certainly have a lot of great institutional and commercial examples of building systems, but we don’t really get to go out and see the smaller, local, residential units,” says Esther Covey, 21, who is also in the dual degree program and, with Conner, has taken on an administrative role for the project.

    “It’s an opportunity for students to see how the solar panels for power and hot water work in an actual building setup,” Covey adds.

    Casey points out that the building will also serve as a legacy, something upperclassmen can feel they’ve been a part of and underclassmen can look forward to.

    “We’ve been a technical school, a two-year school that’s grown to offer bachelor degrees,” she says. “The culture of a two-year, commuter, associates degree school versus a four-year, residential school that also offers two-year degrees is very different.”

    Casey adds, “The LIDI project fits into that cultural growth on campus; students are here for longer, they have more time to explore things. They’re getting degrees that take them into places and experiences that require a broader skill set — these kinds of projects help them experience those worlds before they graduate.”

    A key part of that experience for Covey and Conner is learning the concepts that fall outside their courses of study.

    “One thing we certainly have a handle on and that we focus a lot on in our courses, is how to design and build the building,” Conner says. “We work on that day in and day out. What we don’t work on is how do you make a project like this work, what are the steps you have to take? There’s certainly been a lot of learning going on.”

    Covey agrees: “The really interesting part, and the part I enjoy most, is setting up the system: how to run the project, how to get things laid out, dealing with scheduling, getting all the different construction aspects coordinated. That’s definitely been the challenge and something that we’re growing in.”

    The students have narrowed down their work to one design and now face the challenge of raising money to see their project to its fruition. Covey, Conner and Casey all agree that they welcome any sort of involvement from members of the community, whether they’re professional architects or just interested in learning more about energy-efficient homes.

    To learn more about LIDI and the Center for Sustainable Practices at Vermont Tech, visit www.vtc.edu/csplidi or contact Esther Covey at ecovey@vtc.vsc.edu or at 802-249-6155.

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