Architect Jacob Higgenbottom, left, and Heather Walters of Thornton Tomasetti explain how the building is energy efficient.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Forty upperclassmen will be taking up residence in the new $9.8 million Garfield House on South Street this fall.
The drafty 1851 Tudor structure with floors so tilted dresser drawers would slide open has been replaced by Williams College with a sunny yellow, three-story, energy-efficient structure.
Some $1.3 million had been invested in the building named after Williams' 9th president, Harry A. Garfield, since the college purchased it for a fraternity in 1924. But after speaking with alum, members of the college community and the Williamstown Historic Commission, project designers determined it was time for the old manse to go.
"We did a followup study to decide if we could repurpose it into current standards of living for Garfield House," said Jacob Higginbottom of SGA Architects at a brief tour offered of the building. "We came to the conclusion that the building had out-served its purpose and needed to be replaced in order to meet our energy and lifestyle goals for the students.
"But what we were able to do is repurpose some of the components of the existing buildings."
Those components can be seen in the common areas — the handcarved emblem from the Delta Upsilon House fraternity, solid wood moldings, and the slate roof that's found a home covering the two-story fireplace.
On the entry level of the 16,000 square-foot building is a lounge, large shared kitchen, secure bicycle room and extra security to access the main living area on the second floor. The second floor has a large central lounge with the aforementioned fireplace, a library cubby, doors to the patio and large lawn and dorm rooms. The third floor has more dorms and a small kitchen; there's washer/dryer access on the second and third floors and gathering areas spread through the building.
"This school was interested in designing the lowest carbon footprint living facility, one of the lowest in the state of Massachusetts, if not the country," Higginbottom said. "And we use Passive House certification as a metric to get us there."
Heather Walters, of Thornton Tomasetti engineering, explained that the first Passive House was built in the United States in 2003. American builders have a hard time meeting the original standards set by the Passive House Institute in Germany because of the wider range of climates in the U.S., she said. The U.S. institute opened in 2005 with variations based on climate zones.
"Passive House building is expected to use 50 to 70 percent less energy than a typical building and 90 to 95 percent less energy for heating and cooling," Walters said. "So the way we like to think about passive houses is you are building a thermos."
The new Garfield House was built with 3 inches of foam insulation on the exterior, 5 1/2 inches of cellulose insulation inside, 4 inches of floor insulation, super high-efficiency windows and an air-exchanger in the attic. And a photovoltaic array on the roof.
"So every single part of the building is almost double the code requirements for installation," Walters said. "Along with that Passive House pays a ton of attention to air infiltration ... so this building wants to be as airtight as possible. And the requirements for Passive House buildings are extremely stringent. ...
"All of them means that this building should operate at about 5,200 kilowatt hours a year per person. So for kind of comparison, see, if you think about a hair dryer, that's about 1,200 watts an hour."
The entire project took about three years with major construction beginning in 2018. The construction manager was Engelberth Construction Co. Inc. and Bruce Decoteau was the Williams project manager.
Editor's note: quote on energy use corrected on Aug. 28, 2019.
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