Tuesday December 12
Grinnell College in Iowa is known for leaning to the left. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke here. Grinnell has the highest percentage of graduates in the Peace Corps, and among the student body, conservatives are rarer than a bikini in an Iowa winter. It also has the largest endowment of any private liberal arts college in the country. As it puts the finishing touches on its new campus center, the Joe Rosenfield ’25 Center (JRC), students, faculty, and administrators agree that this bastion of liberalism has put its money where its mouth is–sort of. While the campus center encompasses elements of green design and is adequately handicapped-accessible, the project’s shortcomings illustrate that innovation is limited when students and experts aren’t included in conceiving a campus building from the start of the design process.
Grinnell is not the only college dealing with these issues. Schools across the country are grappling with the imperative to include accessible and eco-friendly features in their new buildings. A January 2006 New York Times article titled “The Greening of America’s Campuses” noted: “Colleges have long marketed their campus amenities, their rosters of scholars, their selectivity and study-abroad programs. To that list, add one more thing: their green credentials.” A piece published in The New Republic last month focused on “the architectural and functional merit of these new student centers.” Obviously, American students are concerned about the environmental and architectural footprints their campuses are leaving on the larger community. And that is why students should be included in designing every aspect of a project.
The JRC–which was officially dedicated on Oct. 7–is among the most environmentally-friendly buildings at Grinnell. Its white roof and stone exterior prevent the building from heating up as quickly as a conventional building, said Tom Crady, vice president of student services, who has been closely involved with the planning and building process since it began 11 years ago. “One of the main things the Campus Center Planning Committee argued for was a lot of natural features and a lot of stone,” he told Campus Progress. “We wanted to have a lot of natural light in the building,” he said, adding that the building achieves this by using “low-heat” glass. Individual rooms also have light sensors in them so that lights go off even if someone forgets to flip the switch.