Chatham University's Eden Hall Campus

The world’s first sustainable college campus now has a Commons Center which will produce more energy than it consumes.

Last summer, Chatham University broke ground for a new building on their Eden Hall Campus, a developing branch situated on 388 acres of donated land in Gibsonia, Pa. After nearly a year of construction, the school will unveil its new Commons Center.

On Thursday, April 28, Chatham University will dedicate the Commons Center building with a ceremony featuring an official ribbon-cutting, keynote speech, and tour of the grounds. The event also marks the completion of the first phase of construction at the campus, where a residence hall, Field Lab facility, solar tunnel, and converted barn now stand.

Commons Center will act as a multi-purpose hub for undergraduate and graduate students from the Falk School of Sustainability. The building features 23,000 square feet of space over two floors, and houses classrooms, a large cafeteria, and a student lounge area with seating for 250 people.

Commons Center also adds to what Peter Walker, Dean of the Falk School of Sustainability, calls “a living learning laboratory” that serves as an asset to students, and as a model of green development.

“If you want to create an economy in this society that’s going to work into the future, you have got to move away from non-renewable to renewable resources,” says Walker. “We’re trying to demonstrate what a small community would look like and feel like if you truly were moving toward a more sustainable environment.”

When finished, the Eden Hall Campus will house and feed 1,500 students, all while emitting zero carbon emissions and producing more energy than it consumes. As part of that mission, Commons Center exceeds LEED Platinum standards, and boasts bifacial solar panels, radiant floor heating panels, and a clean energy-powered commercial and teaching kitchen. A self-watering green wall will also grow fresh herbs for use in the kitchen.

Commons Center went through a test run earlier this month when Eden Hall hosted more than 100 students for the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium’s 2016 Student Sustainability Symposium. Chatham also gave exiting Falk School students the opportunity to use the building for their projects.

“Graduate students all have been using the space to put on these great presentations,” says Walker. “They’ve been here two years, they’ve seen it being built, and really haven’t had a chance to do anything with it. So before they go, they get at least one taste of what it’s like to be in the building.”

With the Commons Center complete, the campus can move onto the next phase of construction which includes plans for a bunkhouse able to accommodate around 30 visitors.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.