Pitzer Aims for Platinum with $31 Million Construction

Construction work on four new platinum LEED-certified residential buildings at Pitzer College broke ground during the last week of December. The new buildings will house approximately 300 students and priority will be given to juniors and seniors. The project will cost about $31 million and will be completed in the spring of 2012. The buildings will contain four residential halls, multiple study rooms, and common areas. “These spaces are meant to promote a stronger intellectual community," Vice President for Student Affairs Jim Marchant told the Forum. "Their mixed use reflects Pitzer’s view that academia doesn’t only start or end in the classroom or lab, but in study rooms, landscapes, and kitchens, as well."

New features also include apartments for faculty residents and visiting scholars, as well as a high-end demonstration kitchen, where visiting chefs will be able to work with students. The roof on the west building will have solar power, and landscaping will be irrigated by a gray water system. A green roof, rooftop garden, and garden wall will also be installed, irrigated by a gray water system which recycles waste water from dishwashers, laundry and bathing.

Holden Hall will be torn down after the completion of the new buildings, for a net increase of 100 beds. Holden was chosen for demolition over others because it has the highest energy consumption as well as asbestos in its ceilings. Not everyone is happy with the change, however, as Holden is the oldest dormitory at Pitzer. One sophomore worries that the new modern LEED buildings will even inspire nostalgia for Holden's characteristic “intimate and cozy” feel.

The construction will destroy some of the "outback": the undeveloped area filled with chaparral and coastal sage scrub north of Sanborn Hall. After the project is completed, 3.2 of the current 4.55 acres will remain undeveloped.

Despite the high LEED rating of the new buildings, the location and destruction of wildlife is causing controversy among Pitzer students. A Pitzer “Restoring Nature” class had spent months cleaning out trash and moving out invasive species in order to improve the ecological balance in the area. In November, they were informed that much of their work would be torn down for the new buildings. “Pitzer is a beautiful place where we learn all about how destructive and maniacally egotistical the non-educated people who destroy everything around globe are, so that we can stamp all over our own hypocrisy with the luxury of not sweating in the desert,” said Nicholas Humphrey PZ '11.

The new construction has become the subject of a heated debate on Pitzer's student-talk email system, but students may have missed the window to protest. “Unfortunately, talking around here takes the form of complaining on [the student-talk email system]. A more productive way to get your opinions heard is to give input at Sunday senate meetings,” remarked Jerzy Kaufmann PZ '12, a member of the Academic Standards Committee. Last fall, the administration held town hall meetings where anyone could voice their opinions. There had also been a meeting to inform students of the issue on December 6, but only 12 students attended.

The Pitzer administration has tried to keep the environmental cost in mind. The City of Claremont requires that any removed tree must be replaced by two more, and Pitzer has exceeded the requirement by planting 26 new native and coast live oaks in the area. “No one is trying to destroy wildlife,” Marchant asserted. A biologist has confirmed that there are no "species of concern" at risk. He will monitor the construction process, ensuring that animals will be fenced off to avoid harm.

Marchant is sure that “the LEED buildings are a tangible demonstration of our commitment to sustainability.” However, green buildings still have a high cost. “One thing that LEED points don’t take into consideration is the construction," said Environmental Analysis Professor Paul Faulstich. "When you’re impacting a relatively natural area so intensely, it becomes ironic to talk about the environmental projects you’re doing when the net loss is this large.” Faulstich is currently working with the architect to reserve 30 more feet of the outback in order to save a cluster of four oak trees.

This construction is Phase Two of Pitzer's 12-year campus development plan. Phase One of the project—the construction of the freshman dorms—has achieved gold certification. Phase Three of the project includes the destruction of Mead’s south towers and the renovation of Mead’s north towers. The two towers will be kept as offices, art studios, and residences.