An appetite for sustainability; a tour of The Class of 1953 Commons


Before there was Dartmouth’s Class of ’53 Commons, lovingly referred to as FoCo by students, there was Thayer Hall. Originally built in 1937, Thayer Hall was lacked many of the features of the modern day FoCo. The building served as a hub for student life on campus -- at one point even housing the Collis Student Center and a variety of other services. It lacked insulation and solid heating systems, making it energy inefficient. The South End side of the dining hall, known as “light side,” could reach over 100 degrees in the summer. Thayer Hall even included a bakery, (where Sarner Underground is now located), where Dartmouth Dining Services (DDS) employees baked fresh breads, hamburger rolls, hot dog rolls, and desserts daily. By 2010, the electrical systems, plumbing and much of the building's equipment were in serious need of repair. Over the course of several years, the Class of 1953 raised a sizable fund to build a dining hall on the North side of campus. This was seriously considered but due to many factors it did not come to fruition. Through much work by interested classmates and then College President Jim Yong Kim, funds from the class of 1953 were used to upgrade the Thayer Dining Hall instead of constructing a new dining hall.

This upgrade was completed in the fall of 2011. The building now uses less than one third of the energy it previously required. Each food prep station is equipped with recycling and compost bins. All food waste is composted. High efficiency ventilation systems are used above grills and advanced heating and cooling systems in conjunction with insulation improvements, such as double paned windows and blinds, help passively manage the building’s heat. Next time you are in FoCo, check out how deep the windowsills are, and you will see how much insulation was added from the original brick underneath the window.

Class of ‘53 Commons: Food Choices
At FoCo, sometimes the food options seem overwhelming. Is it a salad day? Pizza? Ma Thayer’s comfort food type of day? Whatever you’re feeling, FoCo has what you need. Students can find numerous items at FoCo that have a sustainable twist. For example, the coffee is from Pura Vida. This company provides coffee beans that are fair trade, USDA organic, Cause Driven, and Shade Grown certified. You can refuel with coffee while knowing that you are also sipping sustainably. Products like Green Mountain Creamery Yogurt, VT tofu, and a variety of Fall apples are locally sourced. One reality to feeding a student body as big as the Big Green’s is that it is nearly impossible to source all food locally. How can we serve chicken for 1000+ people from local farms when Dartmouth students consume 300 pounds of chicken in a single General Tso meal. At the end of the day, FoCo staff work hard to accommodate all students’ dietary needs and personal preferences while keeping the environment in mind as much as possible. Students examing their own eating habits can help in this effort. For example, when you take food on your plate, take one serving at a time. Try to finish all the food on your plate in order to not waste any food. Try eating a couple meatless meals during the week and when you see local products, purchase those to vote with your fork! FoCo responds to the opinions of students. Do you really enjoy the crusted mac n cheese?  Wish there was more advertising for Meatless Mondays? Tell ‘53 Commons - there is a comment box located by the cash registers in the lobby and a chalkboard next to the dish/utensil drop-off. When students are excited about a food item (or maybe not), FoCo takes these comments into consideration in order to feed students what they want.

Class of ‘53 Commons: Waste Management
DDS has found ways to manage their compost both effectively and efficiently. Merely a few feet away from where students dump their plates and trays sits a machine, the Somat system, that looks as if it were meant for a science lab rather than the cleanup area of a dining hall. The system takes food that the dining staff pour into it and spins it around at a pace fast enough to remove up to ninety-three percent of liquid! It then drops the solid leftovers down a chute and into the basement, where they get put into a compost dumpster and taken to an off site compost facility run by Casella, our contracted waste hauler. The liquid finds its way through the waste stream as well. Every four to six weeks, the liquid waste is treated and removed off-campus. Amongst a number of major benefits, the Somat system boasts a zero landfill impact and recycles its own heat energy, providing DDS with a tool that is both efficient and minimally impactful on our waste stream. Even with this system, DDS has not become complacent in the face of the success they have already accomplished with this treatment system. There have been discussions to find a better and more sustainable solution to the liquid component of the dehydration system.

The forward thinking design of 53 Commons, and constant push for new and inventive ways of dealing with waste, energy, and food sourcing has led the Class of ‘53 Commons to be one of the shining examples of sustainability on campus. It is encouraging to see sustainability integrated into building design and use conversations. As sustainability students, we are eager to see Dartmouth standardize this approach across campus and have more buildings that can be used as learning tools!

Article by Madison Sabol '18, Charles Levy '19, and Paul Vickers '19

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