Chatham's Eden Hall Campus Grows with Sustainability Mission

  • The first phase of construction includes an outdoor amphitheater. Photo: Margaret J. Krauss

  • Dean Dave Hassenzahl picks apples. Photo: Margaret J. Krauss

  • Basil dries in a greenhouse at Eden Hall, Chatham University's new sustainable campus. Photo: Margaret J. Krauss

October 5, 2013

Dave Hassenzahl, dean of Chatham University’s new sustainability school at Eden Hall Campus, doesn’t look ready for apple picking. Hassenzahl tromps through the orchard, heedless of the dry grass creeping into his dress shoes.

He stops to survey a stand of trees just down the hill.

“These are old old apple trees,” he says, pointing. “They’re still pretty productive.” He points to another tree. “That one’s a pear tree, but this one here is a peach tree that produces absolutely delicious peaches. They’re all ripe on the same two-day period.”

Growing its own food is one way the campus practices sustainability, a word that’s become so widely used that it almost has no meaning. But Hassenzahl says sustainability is really about something he calls the triple bottom line—good for people, good for place, good for profit.

“Our idea is how can we improve the quality of life for people. That includes not only the environment around us but also their opportunities for economic development and their opportunities for a socially just world,” he says.

The course offerings at Eden Hall will have the ring of a traditional university: architecture, food studies, and occupational therapy. But Hassenzahl says instead of choosing just one area of focus, sustainability offers students a chance to connect their varied disciplines to the wider world.

“In a lot of ways, sustainability is getting back to that liberal arts tradition: broadly trained, knowing how to do a lot of different things,” he says.

As an example, Hassenzahl describes a project already underway—raising fish for food. He said the idea was to show how to run a profitable business while providing nutritious, affordable food to the local community.

“There’s a real need for inexpensive, safe, low-fat protein in most parts of the United States,” he says. “We can demonstrate how to do it here and then it could be done anywhere in the Pittsburgh area. But it’s good to have a place where you can demonstrate how it works so people can come up and see how it happens.”

Hassenzahl says the fish project, the edible forest, and the greenhouse all show how Eden Hall is trying to move student thinking beyond the classroom. They’re building the campus to be a teaching tool. Hassenzahl crosses the street to demonstrate. Amid the clamor of dump trucks, Hassenzahl says they’re spending seventeen million dollars during the first phase of construction, much of it on projects visitors may never see.

“A lot of it is underground. So we’re doing all of our wastewater management on site and we’re using natural processes to do that.”

Eden Hall is using a series of constructed wetlands to treat the wastewater. The campus buildings will use geothermal heating, photovoltaic panels, and possibly some wind power. Hassenzahl said the school’s master plan uses current technologies but intentionally leaves room for change.

“What we’re doing is designed to be adaptive as we move forward,” he says, “and designed to have at least the best chance of being high quality in the future.”

Hassenzahl picks a few more apples and carried them to the newly renovated commercial kitchen. Sociologist, and Food Studies Program Director, Alice Julier is there making an elaborate apple cake with little in the way of a recipe.

The impromptu baking seemed fitting there. Julier says there’s no road map for this kind of campus. No one has ever done it before. She sees establishment of the campus as a process.

“You’re not just plopping down a building and expecting it to change everyone, or in itself to be kind of the manifestation of sustainability,” she says. “Sustainability’s something that we figure out over time.”

Right now Chatham students are only working on projects at Eden Hall. It will open for residence in fall of 2015.