New center drawing praise

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FARMINGTON – It was toasty warm inside a UMF lounge area Monday afternoon, where sophomore Tyler Nelson sat atop a stool made partly of old seat belts while surfing eBay.

A week after the University of Maine at Farmington’s new Education Center officially opened, Nelson had already been wooed by the building’s pizzazz.

“It’s really the nicest building on campus,” he said. It was the simple aesthetics of the place that charmed him, he explained, noting the variety of the seating options, the sunlight flooding in large windows, and the contrasting paint and design elements.

Everyone, it seems, enjoys the $8.8 million space for different reasons – from beauty, to amenities, to technology, to it’s toasty coziness, to the fact it brings all the disciplines at UMF’s College of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation under one roof for the first time.

That’s probably a feat in any substantial new construction. But all that, in a space built from “green” materials that uses no oil for heat even on frigid winter days, makes the building a model for other public institutions, UMF spokeswoman Jennifer Eriksen said Monday.

So much so, in fact, that UMF President Theo Kalikow is being awarded a 2007 Green Building Award by the Maine Chapter of the US Green Building Council later this week.

The 42,000-square-foot center is the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designed-registered building in Maine designed by a Maine architect, Portland-based PDT Architects, Eriksen said. “(Kalikow) really was a spark for the campus movement,” she said.

More than just green building went into the planning, Kathy Yardly, dean of Education, Health, and Rehabilitation, said Monday. She and other UMF professors and officials started discussing what they wanted the center to be nearly seven years ago, and helped design the multitude of informal meeting spaces that already have started encouraging greater community spirit, she said.

Heated using about 40 geothermal wells that use heat from the earth’s core and electricity to keep the building warm in winter and cool in summer, lit with a combination of south-facing windows and energy-saving adjustable lights, and decorated with materials that don’t emit any gases and that are made from recycled materials when possible, the center showcases what small state-funded colleges can do, she said.

That’s aside from all the benefits of working in a building fitted with top-notch technology, resource centers and teaching tools.

Faculty and staff members, as well as students, are enjoying the change. “It’s a big step up,” Ashley Montgomery, the director of the Teaching and Learning Collaborative, said. Her office was housed in a basement and looked out on the cooling system, she said.

“There’s something different about retrofitting an old building with new technology versus building for it,” she said. “It’s wonderful. Amazing.”

Back in the lounge, senior Adam Pomeroy said he’s already benefiting from amenities the Education Center offers. “It’s more geared to the things I need,” he said, “and it’s easier to come to one building for everything.” Having books and other teaching resources in one spot is also extremely helpful, he said.

“I like how UMF tries to include green things in their building projects,” he added. “It’s an example for other places to follow.”

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