- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2000

ASHLAND, Wis. Dorm life is a little different for 90 students at Northland College: Their "living laboratory" features a 120-foot-tall wind generator, solar panels, recycled furniture and waterless toilets.

The small liberal arts college near Lake Superior touts its $4.1 million Environmental Living and Learning Center as one of the most advanced "green" residence halls in the United States.

"It's great it's such a way of life already," said Kelsey Forrest, 19, of Burnsville, Minn. An environmental studies major, she shares an apartment in the dormitory with five other women.

When Northland began considering a new dorm several years ago, students insisted it be environmentally efficient.

"Students were saying, 'Don't just teach us. Show us,' " said Tom Wojciechowski, the director of student development.

The dorm opened in 1998. Among its features:

• About 8 percent of its electricity is generated by the 20-kilowatt wind tower and three solar arrays.

• Fourteen solar panels on the roof preheat hot water, cutting those costs nearly 30 percent.

• Some furniture, including the bed frames, desks and bathroom counters, is made from recycled milk jugs or soybean hulls and newsprint.

• Organic-based linoleum covers the floor instead of petroleum-based vinyl.

A handwritten sign above one of the waterless compost toilets would have been pertinent decades ago in an outhouse: "Hey composter: Remember to put a handful of wood chips in and close the lid when done."

Rich Hackner, associate director of the Energy Center of Wisconsin, a nonprofit corporation that promotes energy efficiency, said he knew of no other college dorm in the United States with so many eco-friendly features.

"They are on the cutting edge," he said. "It is a living laboratory."

The U.S. Energy Department's Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development lists the dorm as one of 26 "success stories" for commercial projects in the United States.

Many universities have other types of specialty dorms, based on language interests, ethnic backgrounds, even pledges to shun tobacco, alcohol and drugs. Environmentally friendly dorms may be a trend of the future.

Furman University in Greenville, S.C., opened an Eco Cottage this fall. Eight students use only recycled paper products, monitor the environmental effects of their food and toiletry purchases, and limit energy and water consumption, in part by using a low-impact faucet.

Christine Ervin, president of U.S. Green Building Council, said the council's 510 members include Northland and 27 other colleges and universities.

"I would be surprised if we did not have another 25 in six months," she said. "The university community is demonstrating some real interest in green buildings."

Ali Fischer, president of the U.S. Student Association, said many cash-strapped colleges are content to have buildings that don't leak, never mind eco-friendly buildings.

"You would be pretty hard-pressed to find many other dorms like that," Mr. Fischer said of Northland's project. "I wouldn't say it is a sweeping movement."

At Northland, which has about 800 students, Miss Forrest lives in one of two apartments in the new dorm with the composting toilets. Her apartment also contains a digital meter to encourage daily monitoring of electricity usage.

Her rooming fees are $2,400 for the school year, slightly more than for other dorms on campus, but she has no qualms about her choice.

"I am glad I am doing it," she said. "There's a lot more we can do, and I think this is a good starting point."

The two-story dorm features three wings, some with windows facing southward to collect as much solar warmth as possible in a climate where winter normally begins in November and lingers through March. Students can grow plants in two greenhouses.

Brian Amones, a senior from Plymouth, Ind., has lived in the eco-dorm since it opened in 1998.

"The lesson to be drawn is it can be done," he said. "The only thing stopping you is the resolve to do it. It provides examples for the rest of the country."

Jeremiah Manzer, 22, a senior from Owego, N.Y., said living in the dorm has made him more ecology-conscious.

"I don't even pick up a foam cup," he said. "My parents hate it because I won't use foam in their own house."

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