KU building to showcase sustainable technology near Chamney dairy farm

Kansas University architecture students in Studio 804 are currently building what will showcase the latest in green technology. The foundation of the new structure is seen in the middle of the photograph behind Studio 804 students. Part of the Center for Design Research, the project is located near properties on the old Chamney farm on KU’s West Campus near Bob Billings Parkway and Westbrooke Street.

An artist’s rendering of a Studio 804 project shows a view looking northeast on the property of the old Chamney farm on Kansas University’s West Campus. The old dairy barn is at right.

In the 1930s, Harold Chamney was known as one of the most innovative farmers in the state with a dairy operation that provided hundreds of Lawrence homes with fresh bottled milk.

Today, the farm’s fields are owned by the Kansas University Endowment Association, and just a few of the farm’s limestone buildings remain.

KU design professor Greg Thomas hopes the level of innovation that once graced the farm will return in the form of sustainable energy technology.

The Chamney dairy farm sits just off Bob Billings Parkway on KU’s West Campus.

Sandwiched in between the 80-year-old barn and farmhouse is the new foundation for what will be the home of the Center for Design Research.

The building will have wind turbines, solar panels and a charging station for electric vehicles. It’s intended to showcase green technology while providing classrooms, conference areas and research space.

“There is no other building like this in Kansas,” Thomas said.

To create this vision, the Center for Design Research turned to Studio 804, a KU architecture class that requires its students to spend a year designing and constructing a building.

Overseen by KU architecture professor Dan Rockhill, the class has a history with sustainable buildings.

After the Greensburg tornado, Studio 804 built a LEED Platinum arts center for the devastated Kansas town. That facility was followed by two homes built in Kansas City, Kan., that also earned LEED Platinum certification for green building practices.

This is the first time students have built a permanent structure on KU’s campus.

Along with a rain garden and green roof, the new KU building will have windows that can tint in the summer to keep the building cool and open in the winter to warm it.

To help track energy consumption, the building will be outfitted with smart meters from Westar Energy. The smart meter will give detailed hourly readings on how much energy is being used and can communicate with appliances and lighting systems.

The Center for Design Research will pull from across the university — including those in engineering, design, architecture and business — to create sustainable technologies and practices. Along with providing a place for research and teaching, the center will be opened to the public.

And Rockhill believes the public will be interested. While working on the arts center for Greensburg, the class had to put a sign on the door to keep people out of the basement where they were working on sustainable features.

“We are taking the basement of Greensburg and putting it on display,” Rockhill said.

On a sunny afternoon last week, students were out at the site preparing to lay another round of concrete. They have been working around the clock so the building will be finished by graduation weekend in May.

Rockhill calls it an ambitious goal.

To reach that goal, students aren’t just swinging hammers. They also are working phone banks in the hopes of finding potential investors and those willing to donate materials.

A building like the one Studio 804 is constructing would cost between $700,000 and $800,000 for materials. Rockhill hopes to do it for $275,000.

These students are learning on the job. While many have spent the past few years designing buildings on paper, they haven’t ever constructed them.

“It’s taking everything we have learned and taking it to the whole next level,” KU graduate student Justin McGeeney said. “Every day there are new problems that we have never thought of before.”

Graduate student Kirsten Oschwald said it’s exciting to see the building come to life.

“Designing on paper is all we have been doing for about the last four or five years of school,” she said. “To actually physically make what you have designed is pretty unique and special.”