July 20, 2017, BY Matt Hughes

One of Bucknell's most historic buildings is now one of its most energy efficient.

In June, Roberts Hall, the second-oldest building on the Bucknell University campus, received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Originally constructed in 1858 and expanded in 1864, Roberts underwent extensive renovations in 2015 and 2016 that drastically reduced its energy and water consumption while improving comfort for the 136 students who call it home each semester.

According to energy-consumption models commissioned by the University, the residence hall uses at least 20 percent less water and almost 30 percent less energy post-renovation than it did before — even with the addition of air conditioning.

A plaque in the first-floor lobby of Roberts Hall signifies its LEED Silver certification. Photo by Emily Paine, Division of Communications

The University planned to have Roberts qualify for the basic level of LEED certification, but so many green features were included in the renovation that it was able to attain the more stringent Silver level — an impressive feat given that many of LEED certification standards concern site selection and are therefore difficult for a renovation project to meet.

"To get to the Silver level with a renovation is a pretty significant achievement," said Dominic Silvers, senior project manager for Bucknell Facilities. "What put us over the edge was how well we optimized the energy performance of the building."

Perhaps the most extensive Earth-friendly upgrade included in the project was the almost complete replacement of the building's exterior walls with new, locally sourced brick that matches the original. This allowed construction crews to build a modern, well-insulated wall at a cost only slightly higher than that of repairing the existing brick.

Even with the addition of air conditioning in all rooms and amenities like a basement game room and media space, Roberts Hall uses nearly 30 percent less energy than before the renovation. Photo by Brett Simpson

Workers also replaced the building's badly degraded copper roof with a more efficient steel roof in a similar green, redid all plumbing with new pipes and low-flow fixtures, and replaced all exterior windows with double-paned, argon-filled versions. The building's HVAC system was completely replaced with a modern setup featuring controllable thermostats in all student rooms, and occupancy sensors were added to automatically shut off lights when not in use. Locally sourced and recycled materials were used in the project where possible, including the partially recycled flooring in student rooms.

In its assessment, the Green Building Council also evaluated the exterior landscaping around the building, which includes a completely redesigned quad between Roberts and the recently renovated Carnegie Building, awarding Bucknell a maximum four out of four points for water-efficient landscaping.

"With the renovation of Carnegie and Roberts, the idea was to create a space between the first floors of these two buildings — which is public study space — and allow it to spill out under the canopy of the trees," Silvers said. "It lends itself to café tables and chairs, and to study and discussion. That's what we tried to encourage, and I think we got there."

A sustainably landscaped quad between Roberts and the recently renovated Carnegie Building requires no irrigation and preserves existing 100-year-old trees. Photo by Brett Simpson

The quad now is now dotted with brightly colored blue and orange tables beneath a canopy of century-old trees, and segmented by pathways and decorative crushed-stone hardscaping. It requires no irrigation system and is watered as needed with recycled rain.

The project achieved a more sustainable Roberts Hall while still preserving the building's historic character. While Silvers noted that the renovation of Roberts was not a true restoration, Bucknell planners were still careful to match the new exterior brick to the original both in color and arrangement, to choose windows that matched the existing interior woodwork, and to hide modern structural additions like air vents and wall-expansion joints.

"Bucknell has a rich history, and people are used to seeing the campus the way it has existed for years and years," Silvers said. "It's important to maintain the aesthetic of campus, and to really cherish these historic buildings and keep them nice looking, while also making them sustainable, more efficient, and code and ADA compliant. A project like this does all those things, and I think it's a very good investment for the University in the long run."

Roberts is the eighth building on the Bucknell campus to receive LEED certification, with the recently constructed Graham Building expected to earn Silver accreditation soon. Two new affinity houses, expected to open later this summer, are also being constructed to meet LEED standards.