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Club aims to build a biodorm at UA

DAVID HARDEN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Nicole Sanderson, interdisciplinary studies freshman and ECLIPSE member, pots seeds next to the Education building Sunday. ECLIPSE is asking the UA for a spot to build student housing that would apply sustainable living methods, such as energy conservation.
By Jessica Lee
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
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A dorm built with soil and powered by solar energy: That's what students of a new campus club see in UA's future.

ECLIPSE is a new student club whose members want to convince UA officials to let them design, construct and manage a community where students can pursue sustainable living on campus.

"(The university) needs to present a new way of living and thinking about the environment," said Carmiel Banasky, a creative writing senior and club president. "We are heading towards an environmental crisis, and people don't realize this."

Students in ECLIPSE hope to build a student community on UA property that would not only help teach sustainable lifestyle alternatives, such as water and energy conservation, but would also be a home for 15 students who would live cooperatively, sharing maintenance duties.

Students would help design and construct the houses and gardens with donated materials, such as straw bale and rammed earth.

After spending a year studying in London, Banasky returned to the UA with the idea for a new club: She wanted to create a student community that would experiment with a more "environmentally friendly" lifestyle.

The idea is not original, and Banasky bases much of the project on similar projects. The Homestead, a sustainable, communal living experience at Denison University in Ohio, the Civano Solar Village in Tucson, and projects in Boulder, Colo., inspired Banasky to challenge the UA community with the idea.

"If a school in Ohio could do this, a school in Arizona should be able to," Banasky said. "We have the right climate and conditions."

It didn't take long for the club to find a faculty adviser. Guy McPherson, a professor in the School of Natural Resources and department of ecology and evolutionary biology, decided to help the club out.

"It is very difficult to find attempts to live sustainably in this country," McPherson said. "This club is attempting to set an example for the broader community by showing how to live sustainably."

Club members claim that the UA is the perfect place for such a project.

"We learn about sustainable topics in our classes from our teachers, but we don't have the opportunity to follow through," said Nicole Sanderson, an interdisciplinary studies freshman and club member. "It almost feels that it is beyond our control to decrease our ecological footprint."

McPherson, a conservation biologist, agrees.

"This university is among the worst offenders, though it should be among the best. We could easily and inexpensively stop using fossil fuels to extract 10,000-year-old ground water for watering our nonnative plants."

Banasky said the club recognizes there are a number of hurdles it must meet before it can begin building the community. First, it must get

permission to build on UA land, various campus officials must approve the proposal, and designs must meet all of the UA building and safety codes.

Campus Facilities, Design and Construction is one of the many UA departments ECLIPSE will need to work, said Rodney Mackey, manager of FD&C.

"I would think the primary concern our department would have would be life safety. Some of the other criteria would be the appropriateness of site selection, for example," Mackey said.

Mercy Valencia, director of space management, said it is not possible for the club to buy UA land.

Mackey said the club can get permission to use UA land, but it must follow the normal procedures of suggesting a building and getting a department to sponsor the project.

While Mackey did not endorse the project, he said the idea is exciting.

"It is a good opportunity," Mackey said. "Sustainable building is important and crucial."

Banasky met with Jim Van Arsdel, director of Residence Life, earlier this semester, hoping ECLIPSE could work with Residence Life.

"Van Arsdel said he was interested and would support the project if it is an active academic as well as living project," Banasky said.

While Van Arsel said he is open to the idea of working with the club, he stressed the importance of finding an academic department to sponsor the project.

"In my experience, that kind of idea requires a great deal of support and involvement from an academic unit," Van Arsdel said. "I encourage any group like this to explore something they feel passionate about but go in with their eyes open. It is a big commitment."

A cooperative student housing project used to exist in a house near University Medical Center 20 or 30 years ago but was eventually closed, Van Arsdel said.

"It proved not to be sustainable in terms of student interest," he said.

The Slonaker House, now used for the Honors College, also began as student cooperative housing, Van Arsdel said.

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