U.Va. Summer Students Recommend Turning President's House Green

August 11, 2011

August 9, 2011 — If the students in a University of Virginia summer session class have their way, the president's house will be turning greener.

Their plan does not involve a coat of paint over the bricks at Carr's Hill, the official home of University President Teresa A. Sullivan. Instead, they wrapped up the course by presenting a set of sustainability recommendations.

The students enrolled in the "Seeking Sustainability on Carr’s Hill," team-taught by School of Architecture professors John Quale and Peter Waldman and the University's sustainability planner, Andrew Greene, made their presentations Thursday to representatives of the President's Office, Facilities Management, the Office of Major Events and other University departments.

The students studied the main building, landscape and the outbuildings, including a carriage house and two guesthouses, and made their recommendations in three stages, from the easiest and least expensive to the more complex and costly.

The recommendations took into account the building's current uses and its historical importance. Designed by McKim, Mead and White and completed in 1909, Carr's Hill is used frequently for official events, gatherings and receptions, as well as housing official guests. It currently has four residents – including Sullivan; her husband, law professor Douglas Laycock; and their two sons – and a staff of 3. The students' recommendations involved energy and water conservation, using local food and creating a more efficient flow of people through the space, as well as historic preservation.

Quale noted at the start of the presentation that the students met only twice a week for four weeks and did not have time to do a complete study of the property.
The students, William Chantry, Wenhui Chen, Regina Davis, Ghilan Golzar, Clinton Lees, Effie Nicholaou, Denee Tidwell, Chris Young, and Ellen Zagrobelny, took turns presenting the history, current conditions and what could be done with Carr's Hill.

"I believe that we have just began an exploration that other leaders at U.Va. will hopefully implement," Davis, a fourth-year architecture student, said afterward. "It is unbelievable to think that we would be a part of something bigger than a research project."

The recommendations ranged from the simple – replacing incandescent light bulbs with LED lights and closing the house's shutters in the summer – to the more complex, such as installing photovoltaic cells on the roof to generate electricity, re-grading the hill to reduce run-off and installing a new water system.

The students called for weatherizing and insulating the attic and crawl spaces. Some of this contributes to historic preservation as well, since it would include re-installing interior doors removed years ago and refurbishing exterior shutters to prevent heating and cooling loss.

The report advocated connecting the house to the University's central heating and cooling plant, eliminating the need for five freestanding cooling units and several window air conditioning units which will help restore the historical appearance of the buildings.

The students also suggested installing storm windows inside the original single-pane glass exterior windows, which conduct heat, but could not be replaced because of their historic significance. The suggested windows, acrylic with Plexiglass panes, would block heat transfer.

The students described an ambitious plan to install rooftop photovoltaic cells – a 550-square-foot array on the top of the main roof and about 300 square feet above the portico – to generate electricity for the building. They acknowledged that the system would be costly to install and would have about a 25-year payback.

On water control, the students suggested that part of the sloping, paved driveway be replaced with a porous brick that would allow rainwater to be absorbed into the soil on the hill and reduce the amount of stormwater run-off. They also suggested rain barrels, bio-swales and underground cisterns to collect rainwater that could be used for landscaping water and gray water applications.

The students praised Carr's Hill chef Peter Bowyer as an advocate of buying local farm products and suggested planting vegetable gardens at Carr's Hill to help feed the residents and visitors.

The students also recommended removing the semi-permanent events tent on the building's east side and replacing it with a more permanent reception facility inside a renovated the carriage house, which is currently being used for storage and landscaping equipment. The tent, which is taken down each winter and put up each the spring, will soon need replacement; the students stressed that removing the tent would also help restore the house's historic appearance.

The students' plan calls for using the west side of the house for more public and social activity, rehabilitating the underutilized oval garden on that side of the building and reassessing how the outbuildings are used.

The students also suggested establishing a walking path between Carr's Hill and Scott Stadium, allowing Sullivan – an advocate of "volksmarching," a noncompetitive outdoor walk through a scenic or historic area – to lead a volksmarch of guests to the University's football games instead of riding in chartered University buses.

The report also called for more recycling and composting with an eventual goal of reducing to zero the amount of waste brought to the landfill.

"I had the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse group of faculty at U.Va. and learn about ways to reduce the environmental impact of Carr's Hill," said class member Chris Young, a May graduate of the University of Mary Washington, who was taking the class as a community scholar. "It also made me aware of ways I can, as an individual, reduce my footprint."

Several department heads and other officials enthusiastically received the report. Cheryl Gomez, director of utilities for the University, called it "amazing," and Jody Lahendro, a historic preservation architect with Facilities Planning and Construction, praised the students for their thoroughness. "We've done studies in isolation, and what you have done is to put them all together," he said.

Quale noted that rarely was there a conflict in the report between resource conservation and restoring or retaining the historical character of the building. "This is a 21st-century house trying to be a 19th-century house," he said.

Waldman, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Architecture, said the students made an effort to "understand how people worked the land and used the house. If they can get people to use some of the passive systems built into the house, they may be able to change some life habits."

School of Architecture Dean Kim Tanzer praised the report and said it could have wide-ranging impact.

"I think this will resonate with many people in Charlottesville and beyond," she said. "They have put together a blend of history with the best in current products and they did this by bringing together a variety of disciplines, such as architects, engineers and architectural historians. I think they have done a great job."

— By Matt Kelly

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications