STH Community Center


© Garnick Moore Photographers

Every Wednesday the School of Theology (STH) gathers for a community lunch in what is easily the most popular space in the building—the basement. The space, whose awkward layout and dim lighting once made it underutilized, underwent a major renovation during the summer of 2013 making it a functional and versatile space.

A year after the renovation, STH has just received the much awaited news that the space has been certified LEED Gold* by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Sustainability was an important factor in this project for administration, students, and alumni from the beginning, said Kevin Keith, director of administration and finance for the School of Theology.

“I think with STH being as progressive as it is, especially in term of environmentalism, everyone we met with…that was what they brought up”.

The project involved the refurbishment of approximately 4,600 square feet to create multipurpose areas for student study, meetings, recreation, and events like community meals and art exhibits. Additionally, student-serving offices were moved to a more welcoming section of the building and all restrooms were reconfigured for accessibility for people with disabilities.

The project incorporated 100% recycled gypsum wallboard, recycled content wall studs, low VOC paints and adhesives, and low emitting flooring. A conscious effort was also made to use locally sourced materials as well rapidly renewable materials, such as cork. Doors with frosted glass windows, rather than solid doors, were installed to maximize the natural light in the space and make it feel less like a basement. To cut down on water use, low- flow fixtures were installed in all restrooms. LED light fixtures with occupancy sensors and ENERGY STAR appliances were installed to reduce energy use in the space.

The new light fixtures are one of the most impactful changes according to Jeff Hoseth, associate director for Construction Services.

“They are very friendly on the maintenance side and low energy use,” said Hoseth, adding that they can often last up to five years.

“On a normal project you would be changing out lamps a couple times a year”.

Another major upgrade was the addition of a multi-zoned variable refrigerant flow HVAC system, which allows temperatures to be controlled in individual spaces. Rather than heating or cooling the entire basement, the system can be programed to only affect the areas being used, resulting in huge energy savings.

“An efficient HVAC system with good controls was definite plus for the building. We are providing air conditioning and ventilation for that space which is huge for user comfort”.

Through a coordinated effort between STH, Facilities Management & Planning (FM&P), the contractor, and the designers, the project was able to keep its carbon footprint at a minimum not only by using the most sustainable materials, but also by ensuring they recycled as much construction waste from the site as possible. Thanks to their efforts, the project had a 95.8% recycling rate for construction and demolition debris.

While many still believe that sustainable materials and practices will bring added costs, according to both Keith and Hoseth the project budget was not significantly stretched due to their choices.

“I think environmentally conscious still has this stigma of costing more, when in reality, it doesn’t. All in all, I don’t think it was terribly more expensive than it would have been if we hadn’t used recycled content,” said Keith.

Hoseth said that while things like LED light fixtures may initially come at a higher cost than less-efficient alternatives, the cost will be paid back due to the energy savings they produce.

“Other than that we didn’t pay any premiums for equipment,” he said.

While reducing their impact on the environment is certainly one of the greatest benefits of the projects, Keith says the best benefit is how STH is able to utilize the space. The reaction from faculty, staff, students and alumni— some of whom even donated their own money toward the project— has been overwhelmingly positive he said.

“It’s something we never had before; it really allows us to be a lot more versatile in what we do. We can have events now here that we couldn’t have before. It has helped with community life overall”.



* LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project. (USGBC)