2013-2014 Sustainability Update

Lizzie Aldrich, Chair of the Sustainability Studies Department, recaps WMS’s year in sustainability.


The Catherine Houghton Arts Center was completed in January of 2014. The builder, Bensonwood who is noted for their practices emphasizing sustainability in the construction process and in building longevity and operations, was chosen for construction of this building.  Bensonwood uses materials that ensure a tight building envelope and are experts in creating energy efficient buildings, they use environmentally-friendly finishes on wood, and work to reduce their building material waste.

As part of the $1.6 million project, Capital Well installed four vertical geothermal wells in the parking lot of the Catherine Houghton Arts Center during the summer of 2013. The cost premium of this system was $50,000 over a traditional propane or oii-fired system but generates an estimated $11,000 annually savings in oil and significant reduction in CO2 emissions.

Given cost constraints, we have not yet installed a proposed 55-kW photovoltaic (PV) array on the roof.  We are currently exploring entering a Power Purchase Agreement with potential investors able to monetize the tax credits available.  Through this arrangement, an investor would purchase and install the system, allowing them to take advantage of the tax credits that reduce the capital costs by 30%.  The School would then enter an agreement to purchase the electricity generated by the system from the investor for a set period of time.  This rate would be lower than our standard electricity rate but still allow the investor to recoup the costs of their investment over the length of this arrangement.  The School is also exploring some grant funding opportunities for this solar array.

The School has been pre-approved for a 30% rebate on a conversion from fuel oil to wood pellet project in one of our existing dorms. The estimated cost of this project is $62,200 with the rebate of $18,860 reducing the actual costs to $43,340. WMS will be completing this project this summer using a loan from our endowment with the estimated savings over oil of $10,000 per year used to pay off that loan at a 3% interest rate over five years.  This project is a great example of how the School’s Finance, Facilities, and Advancement Committees work together to ensure sustainability projects move forward and the School is able to take advantage of time-sensitive rebate programs.

A Biomass Heat Workshop was hosted at WMS on November 13th of 2013.  It was a well attended gathering with about 75 attendees.  The workshop attendees first toured the main building’s wood pellet system and then heard from developers and maintenance managers who are experienced with these systems.

The school purchased new recycling and waste stations located in the McLane Building, the Catherine Houghton Arts Center, and the gym.  A new battery recycling station was created, and the community was educated on how to properly dispose of hazardous waste, electronics, and batteries.  All of the community’s batteries for the year were collected and sent to Michigan to be recycled.  Also, old cell phones were collected and sent to Verizon’s Hopeline Program to be donated to victims of domestic abuse.  Other hazardous waste like compact fluorescent lightbulbs were collected and taken to the local landfill on the hazardous waste pick-up day.

This summer the farm will be worked by faculty members in a community-supported agriculture model where participating faculty members will receive a share of the produce over the summer in exchange for working the farm one week during the summer.  This model will keep the farm productive and in good shape for the returning students in the fall when all produce will go to the school kitchen.

For the 2014-2015 academic year, WMS has contracted with a new food services management company, NexDine.  They were chosen, in part, for their commitment to sustainable practices and local food procurement.  They also operate one of only three cafes that is a Certified Green Restaurant by the Green Restaurant Association.


Sustainability Club members attended the Marion Institute’s Bioneers by the Bay “Connecting for Change” conference.  Students received scholarships in exchange for working the compost and trash stations at the conference.  James Hansen, NASA former senior scientist who has tried to highlight the importance of taking action to mitigate climate change, was the keynote speaker.  Students enjoyed talking with vendors selling environmentally-friendly products like soap nuts from Nepal that can be used as detergent and eating local, organic food provided by the conference.

The Club hosted a basketball tournament and bake sale that raised over $350 for the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, NY.  The Farm Sanctuary rehabilitates animals who are victims of factory farming. 

Club members redesigned the compost, trash, and chicken scraps in the dish room.  They worked with administrators to discuss possible options for how to improve the appearance and efficacy of the sorting station for these products in the dish room.  Club members created new framed signs for the waste and compost.  The Club completed a trash pickup along West Farm Road for Earth Day.

The Club watched a variety of documentaries including “The Years of Living Dangerously,” “180 Degrees South,” and “King Corn.”  Club members enjoyed social gatherings like when they had a fire and roasted s’mores.


Lizzie Aldrich is new NH Green Schools Alliance state representative.  Lizzie organized and hosted a sustainability leaders meeting in February that involved a roundtable discussion of sustainability directors from St. Johnsbury Academy, Vermont Academy, and Holderness.  The group discussed professional development opportunities, updates on challenges and successes at each school in the last year, divestment from fossil fuels, renewable energy purchasing options at schools, and how to have school administrations listen to ideas from students.  WMS is in conversation with Holderness about co-hosting this meeting next year.  More schools and communities members would be invited and there will possibly be a keynote speaker.

WMS has begun a new independent-study model for Juniors who pick a topic and an advisor for a year-long project, known as the Leadership, Arts, Service, and Research (LASR) project.  Many students have expressed interest in exploring sustainability at deeper level through projects such as the investigation of the green aspects of the new Catherine Houghton Arts Center.

Sustainability-Related Coursework

This year the sustainability-related courses that were offered include the following:

The American Democracy,
AP Environmental Science,
AP Human Geography,
Climate and Energy,
Eastern Religions,
Religion and the Environment, and
Place-Based Writing.

Field Courses

In addition to these year and semester-long courses, many Field Courses were related to sustainability.  The list below includes the Field Courses that focus on one of the three pillars of sustainability – economy, equality, or environment.

Fall 2013
Poverty, Homelessness, and Hunger: Meeting People’s Basic Needs
A Study in Leadership: Backpacking the 100 mile Wilderness
Sedimentation and Erosion on Maine’s Beaches
Farm to Plate: Experiencing Local Agriculture and Low-Impact Living Hydropower and Whitewater Rafting: Where Recreation and Energy Demands Meet
A Watershed Study of the Connecticut River: Canoeing the CT Paddler’s Trail
Mapping the Coastal Landscape: An Exploration of Acadia National Park
The Geology and Rock Climbing of Northern Arizona

Spring 2014
Green Living in the Urban World: Sustainability and Service in Montreal
Helping Others: Community Service in New England
Wilderness Writing
Winter Ecology and Physiology in The White Mountains
The Psychology of Group Interaction & Cross Country Skiing
Community Service in the Dominican Republic
The Business of the Bicycle Industry

Sustainability-Related Field Trips

Sustainability classes took advantage of resources in the local community that could bring the topics covered in class alive for students by showing them real-world applications.  Below is a list of the field trips related to sustainability.
AP Environmental Science visits Meadowstone Farm to learn more about organic farming practices and later in the spring visits the farm to take rocks out of the onion fields and move the greenhouse.

AP Environmental Science visits the Littleton Wastewater Treatment Plant.

AP Environmental Science visits the Casella landfill on Trudeau Road.

Capital Well geothermal developers visit Climate and Energy and AP Environmental Science to teach them more about the geothermal heat pump and wells dug for this system in the Catherine Houghton Arts Center.

Climate and Energy visits Balance Bethlehem to see their air source heat pump.

Climate and Energy visits Sugar Hill to see the municipal buildings that may be heated by a district wood heat system and to present flyers they created in order to educate Sugar Hill residents about energy efficiency and wood heat.

Biology visits Bretzfelder Pond to do an exploratory hike and to net for organisms in pond. 

Biology hikes to the Pine Hill ecology posters and answers questions on them.

Biology completes a scavenger hunt for various geologic features like erratics and native species of trees on the bio loop on campus.

AP Environmental Science completes a field trip to the Littleton Food Coop to compare the ingredients and prices of conventional and GMO-free, fair trade, and organic food.

The Outdoor Education and Leadership class took a student-planned and facilitated camping trip to Pawtuckaway State Park. Students hiked, bouldered, and learned/taught lessons related to New England Tree identification, how to hang a bear bag, how to set up emergency shelter, and group psychology.

Farm Forest went to milk goats at Meadowstone Farm, the apple orchard in Haverhill, and the Misty Meadows horse farm.

In addition to these field trips, classes did a variety of hands-on activities and labs that include, but are not limited to, water quality tests, soil analyses of the garden, the testing of thermal mass of various materials, the study and creation of props to demonstrate examples of biomimicry, independent projects on climate change, and the design and creation of solar cookers.

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