In Maine, the New School of Res-Hall Design Prioritizes Sustainability, Style, and Amenities

Because who doesn’t want to study in an eco-friendly sky lounge?

efficient 50-bed unit dorms at Colby College
Photo by Christian Phillips
By Sarah Stebbins
From our January 2024 issue

Colby College

PROJECT

With enrollment up by about 20 percent in the last decade, Colby, in Waterville, urgently needed more housing for its 2,300 students. Staff considered installing temporary structures before hitting on a permanent prefab solution. Working with Portland’s Kaplan Thompson Architects and Consigli Construction and South Paris modular-home manufacturer KBS Builders, they completed four efficient 50-bed units in 13 months (pictured above), with the last one welcoming residents in January of 2023.

PLAN

Durable, thermally modified spruce clapboards, in patterns inspired by shirts manufactured by Waterville’s former C.F. Hathaway Company, distinguish the buildings from one another and the college’s predominantly brick, neo-Georgian edifices. “Given that colonial history, and our changing student body, having more diverse architecture is critical,” planning and strategy vice president Brian Clark says. Architect Jesse Thompson employed energy-saving Passive House techniques (souped-up insulation, triple-glazed windows) to achieve net-zero-ready buildings capable of generating as much energy as they consume annually.

PERKS

Student lounges equipped with heat pumps, pine-paneled ceilings, and large windows overlooking Johnson Pond; pond-side hammocks; roomy porches with Adirondack chairs; thermostats in every room; and single-occupancy baths — “communal bathrooms are going the way of the dodo,” Clark says.

College of the Atlantic

PROJECT

Facing a dearth of affordable rentals in Bar Harbor, COA sought to house more of its 350 students on campus. Belfast’s OPAL architecture firm, which helped design the college’s Davis Center for Human Ecology to meet rigorous Passive House efficiency standards, was tasked with conceiving a 46-bed dorm that met those requirements, as well as some unusual ones from students.

46-bed dorm built to Passive House energy-efficiency standards at College of the Atlantic
Courtesy of OPAL

PLAN

“Homey finishes” — cedar cladding, a vine-covered exterior wall, exposed- timber framing, cork flooring — impart the coziness students wanted to carry over from the college’s smaller residences, while minimizing the 12,000-square-foot building’s carbon footprint, architect Timothy Lock says. On the first floor, a test-kitchen–style cookspace fulfills another request, allowing residents to continue a campus tradition of cooking together in small groups. With rooftop solar panels and walls stuffed with wood-fiber insulation from Madison’s TimberHP, the dorm, built by Scarborough’s AlliedCook Construction and slated to open this month, is on track to produce more energy than it consumes annually.

PERKS

A kitchen outfitted with five workstations (each with an induction range, sink, and dishwasher), enclosed maple cubbies for each resident, and an 18-foot-long granite-topped island; an airy common space with wraparound triple-glazed windows and an adjoining patio; window-side desks in rooms; and storage for 46 bikes.

University of Southern Maine

PROJECT

With no student housing on its Portland campus and city rents spiking, USM saw its enrollment plummet. Its ambitious response was to erect a 218,000-square-foot, 577-bed dorm built to Passive House energy-efficiency standards — the second-largest Passive House building (after Cornell Tech’s 272,500-square-foot dorm in New York) in the country. Portland’s SMRT, an architecture-engineering firm, and PC Construction helped complete the project before the university’s 7,262 students started classes last fall.

 218,000-square- foot, 577-bed dorm built to Passive House energy-efficiency standards at the University of Southern Maine
Photo by Trent Bell

PLAN

Four high-rise wings, clad in fiber cement and dotted with triple-glazed windows, form a parallelogram that encloses a courtyard. The rear flank connects to a new student center fronted by a half-acre green that used to be a parking lot. In common spaces, the architects left the steel framing on the superinsulated walls exposed to minimize materials and match the urban feel of the project, which is expected to use half the energy of a comparable structure built to standard building codes.

PERKS

En-suite baths and thermostats in every room; kitchens with granite countertops in apartments (and a shared one on the first floor); heat-pump washers and dryers in doubles and quads; parking in a nearby 500-car garage (with capacity to charge 58 EVs); storage for 287 bikes; eighth-floor sky lounge overlooking Back Cove; and a newfound community vibe. “Before, this place was a ghost town on weekends,” USM sustainability director Aaron Witham says. “It’s lively all the time now.”

May 2024, Down East Magazine

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