December 27, 2008

Colorado Chautauqua Aims to Become the “Greenest National Historic Landmark in the U.S.”

When I think of sustainability principles in buildings, shiny and futuristic images come to mind of the new California Academy of Sciences, or the Helena in New York City where I used to work, or many of these LEED Platinum buildings of 2008. But green building practices are not only a part of new construction; they can also be integrated into existing structures. In fact there’s an ongoing debate of whether remodeling or building new is the greener way to go, and it looks like remodel may be coming out on top for using less newly harvested and manufactured materials. I can see how people are drawn to attractive new structures, but what about those that are simply unique and a deep part of our collective history?

Colorado’s Chautauqua was almost demolished in the 1970’s before its auditorium was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now we’re entering a new phase of preservation as the Colorado Chautauqua Association (CCA) recently announced its plans to make its site the greenest National Historic Landmark in the U.S. The Chautauqua movement, most popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brought people together for shared cultural and educational experiences. The Colorado Chautauqua was started in Boulder in 1898, and the entire site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006. The CCA’s mission is to preserve and improve the site and spirit of the historic Chautauqua in Boulder. It oversees the existing site which includes historic buildings such as the auditorium and dining hall and 99 cottages.

These cottages will be a starting point for the greening of Colorado Chautauqua. At the top of the list is a plan to increase the resource efficiency of each cottage, with an aim to make them Energy Star rated. This will involve upgrading insulation and windows, changing heating and cooling systems and other strategies to reduce energy demand while increasing comfort for the cottages’ tenants and guests.

CCA also plans to reduce water usage throughout the entire site whether it is through installing low-flow faucets or introducing more native and drought-resistant plants. Another goal is zero solid waste generation through recycling, composting and building materials reuse.

At the helm is CCA’s new “Green Champion”, Jeff Medanich. After having worked with improving energy efficiency in several structures, Mr. Medanich recently came to Colorado Chautauqua as its Facilities and Preservation Manager. This past August he led staff and Board members in meetings with local and national experts to create Chautauqua’s greening plan.

“Many construction techniques that we refer to today as “best practices” are directly related to techniques employed by the original builders of Chautauqua. These early builders were efficient and economical by nature,” says Medanich.

Looking forward, Colorado Chautauqua will become a model for “High Performance Preservation” where visitors can see how environmental technologies can be integrated with historic preservation.

All images via Colorado Chautauqua Association

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