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Grayson House and Field House, UMass Amherst

By Mitchell H. Lowe, A.I.A., NCARB, LEED AP BD+C

Window Replacement and Accessibility Modifications

The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus sits in the saddle between two ranges of rolling hills, in the Pioneer Valley following the Connecticut River.  Winter storms keep the valley and the campus much colder than eastern Massachusetts.  The recent surge of tornadoes and ice storms have had an adverse weather impact on the region.  It gets windy and stays windy in the winter, and campus life suffers.  Students living on campus and attending classes get cold and then stay cold throughout the winter.

The Orchard Hill Dormitory complex at the UMass Amherst campus was built in the 1960’s when energy was cheap and thought to be limitless.  The dorms were built with no insulation in the exterior walls and the windows had single pane glass.  Energy efficiency was not yet a topic on anyone’s mind.  Instead, the University was focused on housing as many students as they could for the upcoming influx of college aged children from the post World War II baby boom generation.

The Orchard Hill complex consists of four dormitory buildings, each almost identical in shape and size.  Each dorm is seven stories high, with a first floor consisting of common areas and public rooms, and with floors two through seven each holding 28 two-person dorm rooms and two larger dorm/lounge spaces.  The perimeter of each building is about 650 linear feet.  Each dorm room has about 100 square feet of exterior wall and two windows.  Including the common areas on floors two through seven, there are about 384 windows of one size, and a mix of another 60 windows of varying sizes, shapes, and configurations.

As part of the campus’s ongoing energy efficiency upgrades, CBI Consulting Inc. was commissioned to design the replacement of all of the windows and most of the exterior brick walls on two of the buildings in the complex, Grayson House, and Field House in a phased approach. 

The bulk of the work is in replacing the dorm room and bathroom windows which are single pane, awning type units.  Some of the panes are broken, some of the operable windows do not operate, and all are almost 50 years old.  They all leak air and water horribly.  They are drafty and uncomfortable to the room occupants.  During heavy rains, water pools and puddles on the inside and often ruins anything left out on the desks.  The air and wind leakage requires the heating to be run full time, and at high heat levels to combat the cold.  The new windows are double hung units and consist of double pane glass or metal clad insulated panels; the window frames are thermally broken.  New flashings will be installed on all sides of the windows.

The exterior walls are two wythes of masonry; an exterior wythe of brick, an empty air space of about 3 inches, and an interior wythe of concrete masonry units.  All the exterior brick wall panels between the dorm rooms and toilet rooms will be replaced as well.  New insulation with an air barrier will be installed between the existing CMU and new exterior brick cladding.  New flashing will be installed at the tops and bottoms of all the brick panels in order to also help keep out rain. 

The University expects the energy savings for all the work in these buildings to provide a payback period of less than five years.  What is not counted is the increase in student comfort level; the payback period for this is sometimes instant!