Significant Campus Upgrades Being Completed at Unity College, Continues Years of Progress

By Unity College | Jun 12, 2013
An aerial shot of the Unity College campus.

Unity, Maine -- When Unity College students return in late August for the 2013-14 academic year, they will experience a transformed campus.  Over the past several years the Unity campus has undergone significant upgrades and transformations, including the construction of TerraHaus, the first residence hall in the United States built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient standard in the world.

     Over the summer months a slate of projects big and small are being undertaken.  The projects will improve energy efficiency, provide students with cutting-edge laboratory research facilities and equipment, and provide enhanced esthetic appeal on a campus that has maintained its rural charm from its founding in 1965. 

     Two things have changed since Unity’s founding: the world and Unity College’s place in it.  Changes to campus have closely paralleled the needs and expectations of plugged-in, computer savvy Millennial Generation.  Perhaps more importantly, offerings like the state-of-the-art geographic information systems multi-media classroom and training lab, completed in 2012, ensure that Unity remains true to its strong environmental mission by remaining relevant in a changing world.

     Efficiency, utility, and service to students are important aspects of every project.

     “It is important that students know how their tuition dollars are being spent,” said Senior Vice President for External Affairs Melik Khoury.  “At Unity College we understand that the physical space is as important as the intellectual space.  This is yet another in a series of renovations that we are doing to continue to support our mission by making our buildings more sustainable, and creating the kind of space that students can enjoy as their home away from home.”

                                    Appealing to a New Generation

     “The progress of our facilities and esthetic appeal of campus has been on a steady arc of improvement for a decade, and we have been steadily investing in the future while divesting from the past,” said Director of Residence Life / Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Stephen Nason, who has been an employee of the College for 18 years.  Nason’s comment offered a nod to Unity’s status as the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels.

     “With respect to facilities that support a leading-edge vision for 21st century environmental education, Unity has done a good job of ensuring that its facilities keep pace with its aspirations,” Nason said.  “Our buildings have become more effective tools for teaching, which is particularly appropriate given Unity’s hands-on approach to learning in service to its sustainability science core.”

     Sustainability science, which unites all aspects of the College, is the leading-edge of transdisciplinary (collaborative) 21st century environmental problem solving.

     Nason’s office is located in the largest building on campus, the Student Activities Building, home to a restaurant style student center with performance space, offices, classrooms, a climbing wall, fitness center and gymnasium.  Built with materials popular in the 1960s that now are highly inefficient from an energy perspective, the Student Activities Building consumes the greatest amount of energy among all campus buildings.  During the summer of 2012, five inches of insulation was added to the roof.  Now, the entire outside of the cinder block and brick building is being covered (the brick side is being power washed but preserved without being covered), with 2-3 inches of sprayed foam insulation.  All the windows in the building are being replaced.  The finishing touches involve covering all non-brick surfaces with a functional and esthetically pleasing metal siding.
     Chair lifts will be added to both main stair cases, making the Student Activities Building one of the most accessible on campus.

                                           Sustainability is Key

     Given Unity College’s focus on sustainability in both its practices and curriculum, improving the R-value (a measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry) from nearly zero to R13 has been a goal of Dan LaForge, Director of Facilities and Public Safety.  He has overseen the planning of the many projects unfolding this summer at Unity, most planned with involvement from diverse segments of the College community including senior administration, staff, faculty, and students.  LaForge is overseeing a dizzying array of 25 campus improvement projects this summer.  The projects are a labor of love for LaForge, who in just his second year at Unity, worked on the planning of the projects with a large chunk of campus constituents.

     “In the past 2 years we have improved the look of the campus dramatically,” said LaForge.  Whether by design or happy coincidence, the improvements have closely paralleled positive changes in the College’s student body.  Known as the epicenter for one of the most well-respected Conservation Law Enforcement programs in New England, in recent years other programs at Unity College like Sustainable Agriculture and Captive Wildlife Care and Education have been founded and grown in scope, improving the diversity of the student body.  The Conservation Law Enforcement program remains very popular.

     Nason estimates that when the fall 2013 semester begins, Unity’s student body will include students from 36 states, quite an improvement from just a decade ago, when Unity attracted students from 25 states.

                                       Campus Grows in Popularity

     Nason reports that on-campus housing is at 114 percent capacity.  “For the first time ever, 70 percent of students are asking to live on campus,” said Nason.  “The number of juniors and seniors who want to live on campus went up by 20 percent for this fall compared to last fall.  We have a strong residential community with services and esthetics that are very appealing to students.  Our consistent campus upgrades are a factor in the lure of living on this campus.”

     Director of Marketing Bob Fitzpatrick sees a link between campus appearance and viability.

     “Facilities upgrades that assist teaching and research bolster the appeal of a college or university,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Also, the appearance of a campus has even broader importance.  First impressions matter, students prefer colleges that are newer, more cared for and that offer the kind of improvements we have been making at Unity.” 

     On the academic side of the coin, three major improvements will provide a spark for the sciences.

    The geology, chemistry and molecular laboratories are being upgraded.  In the case of the chemistry laboratory upgrade, the entire room has been gutted and is being reconstructed and fitted with equipment that meets the highest standards. 

     After a year of careful planning involving Associate Professor of Geoscience Kevin Spigel and LaForge, the geology laboratory will move across campus to a larger space that is renovated to do double duty, serving as both classroom and laboratory space.

     Elements of the renovations within the laboratories will enhance teaching and learning, like an enclosed space within the molecular laboratory that is devoted solely to microscopes, the lighting conditions in the space making use of the microscopes more comfortable and quite possibly more efficient.

     Additional faculty contributed much sweat equity to planning the laboratories, says LaForge, including Associate Professor of Marine Biology Emma Creaser, Instructor of Chemistry Wilma Lombardi, Professor of Geochemistry Lois Ongley, Associate Professor of Biology Aimee Phillippi, and Assistant Professor Sarah Cunningham.

     Nearby Quimby Library, which had a large solar array and wood pellet boiler installed during the extensive campus improvements that took place last summer, will have all of its panels connected to the grid by Central Maine Power.  From the installation of the panels, 2/3 of the maximum energy the grid was capable of producing was available.  Now, a full 100 percent of the energy produced by the array will be online.

     As with many things – if not most – at Unity College, installing the panels was a family affair.  ReVision Energy, which installed the solar array, employs several Unity alumni, including John Luft ’93, Brett Irving, ’02, and Matt Wagner ’02.  The trio worked on the TerraHaus project.

                               An Important Symbol Gets a Face Lift

     One of the more talked about changes taking place this summer is one of the least costly.  Two Unity College signs welcome visitors to campus, one near the main entrance adjacent to the Welcome Center and the other at the top of Quaker Hill across from Constable Hall, a historic building that once housed the Constable family that donated the land that the College was built on in 1965.  The sign across from Constable Hall will be perpendicular to the road and double sided, while the sign adjacent to the Welcome Center will be single sided.

     Like most projects at Unity College, the sign design was a team effort involving LaForge, Fitzpatrick, and Marketing Coordinator Kate Gilbert.  The backstory to the new campus signs actually spans most of a decade, with many furtive attempts being stopped in favor of tradition.  However, given Unity’s ever improving campus and national aspirations,  Fitzpatrick pointed out that the time was right for an upgrade.

     “The signs there were decades old,” noted Fitzpatrick.  “The idea (in replacing them) was to reflect who we are now and to showcase our new brand logo while still taking a terrestrial approach that honors Unity’s past.  I think the signs will perfectly balance Unity’s past with its present and future.”

     A number of designs were considered and presented to senior leadership and Professor of Art Ben Potter, with the final design – a metal disc and lettering with stone base – earning unanimous approval.  Installation of the signs with their stone bases will begin in July and be completed before the beginning of the fall semester, says LaForge.

                                 Unity Center Auditorium to be Updated
     Just a short jaunt from the Quaker Hill Road campus in Unity and across the majestic footbridge that spans Sandy Stream, completed by the Maine Department of Transportation in 2011, is the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts. 

     Used for a variety of community and campus events, the center has a 200 seat auditorium.  Over the summer the seats in the auditorium will be reupholstered.

    In recent years Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements including its focus on sustainability science; its ground-breaking “green” innovations such as the award-winning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and for being the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education.

     Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.


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