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'First, do not waste' could be motto for Phillips renovation

By Richard Thompson
Globe Correspondent / February 22, 2009
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Not long after setting out to build an outdoor ice skating rink in his small New Hampshire hometown, Jay "Frosty" Sobetzer got word that a private boarding school more than 100 miles away in Andover, Mass., had some dasher boards and plexiglass panels that were up for grabs.

Equipped with several flatbed trucks and a cargo trailer, Sobetzer led a group of residents from Rumney, a town of about 1,500 located on the edge of the White Mountain National Forest, to Phillips Academy, which has been renovating its historic dining halls for the past 14 months.

More than 1,500 tons of waste from demolition and construction debris have been generated by the construction project, according to school officials, and nearly 98 percent of the components - not just the dasher boards and the plexiglass, but cabinets, countertops, chairs, and tables - have either been recycled in communities such as Rumney or reused as part of the work.

Other materials have also been given a second life - such as the dining halls' granite steps, which have been converted to curbing elsewhere on campus - in an effort to meet requirements for achieving certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, a program operated by the US Green Building Council, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable building design.

"It's not just about the final product," said John Rogers, the academy's dean of studies, who doubles as its sustainability adviser. "It's about the process, including what happens to the waste materials, the conditions that the workers and the surrounding community are exposed to, and all that kind of stuff that goes into new construction."

During construction, academy students have been meeting for meals in the school's Sumner Smith Rink - where the dasher boards that were sent to Rumney originated. The rink was redone last summer to include two modular kitchens and seating for 600 so it could serve as an interim facility until the $30 million dining hall project is completed in March.

Until now, the old dining halls, known as Commons, had been renovated only once since opening in 1930.

School officials have been working to integrate energy-efficient building practices combined while retaining and restoring its aesthetic features including chandeliers, limestone staircases, and sections of Georgian paneling.

"It's very hard to certify dining facilities because they tend to be very energy-intensive in order to meet the public health and fire codes," said Michael Williams, the academy's director of facilities.

A key ingredient for reaching that goal lies with the new heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning equipment, which Williams said will use less than half the energy required to power a conventional dining facility.

Changes to the building also include expanded seating and meeting spaces and a centralized food preparation and service area on both floors, with multiple serving stations providing more made-to-order options.

Funding for the renovations began with a $10 million donation from David S. Paresky, who graduated from Phillips in 1956 before cofounding the Boston-based Crimson Travel Service, and the building will be renamed the Paresky Commons.

One of the few students to have seen the renovations firsthand, Malin Adams, a Concord senior who serves as student council president, compiled a three-minute video tour of the work, which he recently screened for his peers.

"It's a lot of what may seem like unnecessary effort that the students really appreciate about the renovations," Adams said recently. "It's a thing of pride to have such a beautiful building and such an important building to the students be one that we can look up to as a standard for others that will be built in the future."

In Rumney, meanwhile, Sobetzer hopes the spare furnishings will provide a barrier for ice skaters by next winter. "It's certainly something that the town never could have afforded to buy," he said.

Richard Thompson is at thompjourn@gmail.com.

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