Sachem Village, in West Lebanon, New Hampshire is a massive project undertaken by Trumbull-Nelson and Dartmouth College. Tucked away behind the soccer fields at Campion Rink, Sachem Village looks over the steeple of Baker Library and the town of Hanover. It is a hidden development, and one can pass it unawares while driving up Route 10 between West Lebanon and Hanover.
But turn down Gould Road, and there arises a small village anchored by a community center that looks like a church or town-meeting hall with an energy-efficient, wood pellet heating plant.
Sachem Village houses Dartmouth graduate students with families and young faculty members, and in 2006 the process of updating the village began. The upgrades were planned to take place in three parts —Phase I was completed in 2007 and work has now commenced on Phase II. This upgrade involved building new units, repairing and remodeling old ones, and making the entire village energy efficient.
Moving to the Future
One of the more interesting aspects of Phase I was the use of large modular construction pieces fabricated in Quebec by RCM Modulaire. Trucked down from the north, the parts were quickly put together and the village took shape in a short amount of time. The new village literally sprung up overnight, and the same method is being used in Phase II, in which four 8-unit buildings, three 6-unit buildings, three 3-unit buildings and two 9-unit buildings are being added.
More fascinating than the use of modular construction to build the housing units was the integration of energy star appliances and now, in Phase II, the use of a wood pellet heating plant. “All the buildings are energy-star certified, and very efficient,” said Project Superintendent Robert Allen, “and the pellet boiler is one of the largest pellet boilers to be built in New Hampshire. It distributes the heat through a complex network of underground Eco Flex piping. All of which is energy efficient.”
The pellet boiler burns large wood pellets that are stored in a silo-like tower. The benefit of burning wood pellets is that it doesn’t damage the environment.
A pellet boiler can also be referred to as a biomass heater. Biomass is dead organisms, usually plant material, and the benefit of burning dead plant material is that the carbon dioxide released into the air from its consumption is already part of the carbon cycle. This means that the plants absorb carbon dioxide during their lifetimes and release it back into the air when they rot or are burned. An additional benefit to burning biomass is that all of the carbon enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, rather than the combination of carbon dioxide and methane that would otherwise be released. Methane is a far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Burning oil and gas, which are fossil fuels, adds to pollution because the carbon dioxide trapped within fossil fuels was removed from the atmosphere millions of years ago. The use of fossil fuel takes carbon out of permanent storage and releases it into the atmosphere.
The energy-star appliances and energy conservation methods within the buildings and throughout the heating of the entire village is representative of Dartmouth College's forward-thinking attitude. The climate is changing, oil is growing increasingly more expensive, and energy conservation is of growing interest and an increasingly attractive option for many businesses and homeowners. According to Allen, “we also wanted to implement solar energy into Sachem Village, but the wood pellet boiler is so efficient that it wasn’t necessary.”
The Community Center
Alongside the wood pellet boiler is the large community center, a beautiful white building with a square cupola rising above the front, a grassy lawn, and benches adorning the area around the front door. It looks like a typical New England church or town meeting house, and its design reflects its utility.
The interior of the building houses mailboxes for the community, several study rooms, and a larger area to be used for studying or day-care services. There is a small office and kitchen. The building also acts as a central hub for the village’s infrastructure. Phone lines, internet access, cable, and fire alarm systems are all hooked up through the building so that the village has a central location for its utilities.
It is a building that, as Allen said, “Can bring the community together.”
The housing project involved the addition of eighty new residential units and included the introduction of eight new handicap accessible units. The housing units were put together using modular sections, which resulted in a reduced construction time of nearly 30 percent. This minimized the impact upon the community. Rather than putting the homes together one board at a time, the town houses, duplexes, and other buildings came in large pieces that were fitted together with cranes.
The buildings arrived nearly 80 percent complete from the factory in Quebec, having been hauled down on trucks with Vermont and New Hampshire state police escorts. RCM Modulaire has gained quite a reputation throughout North America over the past decade or so because of their quality and the speed at which they produce the buildings. As T-N's project manager Tony Instasi said, “they are very solid buildings by virtue of the fact that they have to weather the trip down from Canada.”
Work on Sachem Village will continue into Phase III, but Trumbull-Nelson and Dartmouth are proud of the project so far. The village is rounding itself out and is already being lived in by the many graduate students and faculty families that have taken up residence in the units put together by Trumbull-Nelson. There is a lot to be proud of, from the energy-efficient and environmentally friendly wood pellet boiler to the large and beautiful community center. It is a project that truly stands out.