Hiram College

Hiram College knows that its students will be called on to solve big problems, deal with unexpected futures, and help make a better world.  At the core of Hiram’s vision of a liberal arts education is the commitment to helping students develop capacities for critical thought, practical problem-solving, reflective decision-making, and lifelong learning.

Although this may sound like a cliché—or a shameless plug for Hiram—it accurately describes our experiences in making the Teaching, Research, and Environmental Education (or TREE) House a reality here on Hiram’s campus.

Faculty in Environmental Studies continue to be reminded that, at Hiram, it’s not only students who get to do all those wonderful things.  The truth is that teachers (if they’re any good) remain perpetual students—continuing to develop and refine their abilities to think, solve, decide, learn, and do.  The story of the TREE House is just one example of all that in action at Hiram.

Here’s the story.

When the Environmental Studies Program decided to use part of a gift to renovate a college-owned house to become our new campus home—and an example of strategies for making existing houses more efficient and livable—we didn’t fully understand what we were getting ourselves into.

After working through an intensive team design and decision-making process, we thought we were all set to start construction in May and finish in time to move in and kick off the academic year in our new digs.  But we soon learned that there would be much more to the story…and that we needed to be adaptable to deal effectively with each step.

First, despite our penchant for dreaming up flashy scenarios for the more visible features of the house, we discovered that the foundation was in terrible shape—as in, you could see daylight through it! (Check out the picture to the right.)  In order to keep water out and “tighten the envelope” we would need to fix that; and those repairs would devour a considerable portion of our budget.  Dominic Gualtieri (of Gualtieri Construction) and George Clapp (of Gemac Excavating) worked with us to make a plan.  To our surprise, it turns out to be a really exciting aspect of the project!  In addition to shoring up the house and taking care of the water issue, we get excellent insulation with ICFs (insulated concrete forms), additional useable space, and fill to use for re-grading and creating an integrated landscape/accessibility ramp out front.

Next came lots of “experiential learning” in the realms of zoning, building permits (we’re proud of ours!), bids, contracts, college finance, and more.  Navigating these steps was no small feat for folks trained in sociology, forest ecology, and conservation biology.  We could only hope that we wouldn’t drive everybody crazy with our questions.  Among the many helpful people we worked with, at the College and in the Village, is our determined and ever-helpful architectural consultant and construction manager, Jim Zella, of The Zella Company.  Many thanks go to him for keeping this project moving forward!

No doubt, there are many more lessons to come, but we are thrilled to report that demolition and construction have begun!  Excavation and foundation work will occur over the next month and a half, or so.

The faculty and students involved, as well as some guest bloggers, will have lots of discoveries, insights, and updates to share along the way. Please join us in following the transformation of the TREE House and in our ongoing liberal arts education here at Hiramwhere the professors are not afraid to put the “post hole digger” in Ph.D.