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October 13, 2012

Allegheny science center named for former president

MEADVILLE — On its 40-year anniversary, the Allegheny College Environmental Science Department finally found a home, said its chairperson and professor, Eric Pallant. Surrounded by tropical flora in the lobby of the Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science, Pallant dedicated the site, the former Carr Hall science building, to the college’s president emeritus, and national collegiate leader of environmental sustainability efforts, Richard J. Cook.

“This center reflects everything great about Allegheny College and Liberal Arts education,” said President James Mullen Jr. “The vision that Richard Cook started is now a reality.”

About 200 friends and supporters of Allegheny, including trustees, alumni, faculty, staff and students, began gathering at 4:30 p.m. Friday in the recently renovated Carr Hall, which houses the department that was formerly wandering the wilderness, according to Pallant.

“His love for environmental science and ability to share it with others helped make Allegheny a leader in sustainability and environmental respect,” said Eddie Taylor, Board of Trustees chairman. “There was no greater champion in this regard than Richard Cook.”

Cook, who began his academic career as a chemistry professor, served Allegheny as president for 12 years from 1996 to 2008, after which he left for travels between Michigan and Minnesota.

“He’s a national leader for environmental stewardship,” said Mullen. “This building couldn’t have been named more appropriately.”

“The trustees took me totally by surprise by announcing this in 2008, my very last year,” said Cook. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen the building, but it’s been worth the wait. Everyone here has worked very hard.”

Renovations on the almost 50-year-old building took just over a year from last summer with a total cost of approximately $5.6 million, according to Cliff Willis, director of the Allegheny College Physical Plant.

“The main student input involved primary focus for improved lighting, air quality and plantings inside and out,” he said “Watching this building slowly come to fruition was a real treat. The feel of the building now is exhilarating.”

The new facilities merge the college’s latest in environmental technologies with the biology and nature its students work to study and preserve, with features like an aquaponic sustainable food system, all-natural lighting, and laboratory and classroom facilities made from recycled and renewable resources.

“The tilapia (fish) in the bottom tank produce ammonia which turns into nitrates absorbed by the lettuce in the area above,” said junior environmental science major Kirsten Ressel, explaining the aquaponic system as part of a student and faculty-led facility tour. “The water cycles through the system and by the time it reaches the bottom again, it’s clean.”

The resulting growth of produce and fish will then be sold to Parkhurst Dining Services, Allegheny’s catering company. Students plan to renew the aquatic resource of that equation by breeding the tilapia.

“There’s no soil, which means no pesticides or fertilizers, and the whole system is self-sustaining,” said Ressel. “The food’s as local as you can get.”

Traditional faculty offices, research labs, student classrooms and more are all outfitted with similar “green” energy-efficient technologies.

“Up until the building’s finish in the fall, the environmental science department didn’t have a permanent home,” said Kate Darby, assistant professor of environmental science. “Classes were held all over campus; in the library and biology building, for example.”

When the project was conceptualized, the department’s students were called upon to prioritize the building’s features, including fresh air, natural lighting and noise reduction.

“This center pushes resource conservation so we tried out with different furniture, surfaces and flooring made from recycled and sustainable materials we could potentially use in other buildings,” said Darby. “Solar tubes collect natural light which passes through a series of mirrors and connects to these lights on the ceiling.”

The end result is no-glare sunlight with dimming capabilities that looks as though it’s coming though artificial lamps and bulbs.

Every room is also outfitted with carbon dioxide motion and light sensors that respond to occupancy levels and can adjust ventilation to save energy.

“Future plans include the production of an outside garden for fruits and vegetables to act as a living laboratory, the production of which we also plan to sell to Parkhurst,” said Darby. “We hope to use the revenue from those sales to fund management for that product so it will be self-sustaining as well.”

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