New Saint Michael's College building among most energy-efficient in Vermont

By: Mark Tarnacki
Dion Center energy efficiency


The new Dion Family Student Center and Quad Commons Residential Hall at Saint Michael's College is one of the most energy-efficient buildings in Vermont. Over the calendar year this 80,000 square-foot complex is expected to use 77% less energy than a comparable new building, based on computer energy models developed by the project's mechanical engineer, LN Consulting.  This building is designed to rely minimally upon fossil fuels, demonstrating a model for what campus buildings can achieve.

This major project, introduced by President John J. Neuhauser in 2010, came to fruition after three years of work involving a successful collaboration among designers and builders, with input from students, staff, trustees, faculty and administration. The Dion Family Student Center serves as a central hub for campus life and student activities, creating a renewed sense of community for the college. A connected residence hall called Quad Commons offers energy-efficient housing for 105 students on campus.

"Students now have much needed places to meet, talk, pray, study, and to learn from each other," said President Neuhauser. "We have every hope that this space will inspire and ignite great learning and engagement," he added.

The building utilizes ground-source, or geothermal, heat pumps to extract heat from the ground as the primary heating source during the winter and reject heat during the summer to meet cooling needs.  With a consistent temperature of 55oF, the ground can serve as both a "heat source" and "heat sink" throughout the year, with the system boosting temperatures during the winter using energy-efficient heat pumps to achieve space set-points. This approach to providing comfort conditioning helps reduce natural gas consumption by 95% for the building. 

"After working with the design team to evaluate our options for including renewables on site, we opted to pursue geothermal," said James Farrington, Saint Michael's associate director of physical plant. "This approach offers a solid return-on-investment for the College, while reducing our reliance upon fossil fuels and carbon footprint."

The walls and roof employ rigid foam insulation and efficient windows to provide for plenty to natural light while still reducing heat loss. Energy recovery systems are included as part of the ventilation systems to capture remaining heat from exhausted air. Lighting is provided by a mix of natural daylighting, high-efficiency fluorescents, and LEDs, cutting electricity use by 40% compared to standard lighting practices.

"This project is a great example of how a focused and coordinated design can drive energy performance to levels we have not seen in many buildings here in Vermont," said Jim Merriam, Director of Efficiency Vermont. "The Efficiency Vermont team was very excited to play a role in translating the project’s energy goals into reality. We applaud great work of the entire design team and the leadership of Saint Michael's College for setting – and achieving – such ambitious energy goals."

The successful completion of the Dion Family Student Center has inspired a series of other sustainability efforts by Saint Michael's College. Over the next year, the college will look at ways to reduce energy consumption in many existing buildings, including upgrades to lighting, pumps, and other systems across campus to drastically cut electricity costs.

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