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Ground-blessing for New, Green Residence Hall at Columbia Theological Seminary


Columbia Theological Seminary students, faculty, staff, and trustees will gather on Tuesday, April 1, at 5:00 p.m. for a “ground-blessing” at the site of a new $9.6 million student residence hall that is expected to be one of the first buildings in Decatur, GA, to earn LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. 

The ground-blessing, a departure from the conventional construction ground-breaking, will include the dedication of a collection of prayers sent by students, alumni/ae, faculty and staff for placement in the new building’s foundation. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System™ is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings. Building plan “This new residence hall, badly needed by our students, is a critical part of our plan to keep Columbia competitive not only with other theological schools but with other professional schools for the most talented leaders of the 21st century,” said Laura Mendenhall, Columbia’s president. 

Designed by Lord, Aeck & Sargent, the residence hall will include studio and one-, two- and four-bedroom apartment units, a recreation/workout area accessible to the entire student body, a community kitchen with indoor and outdoor seating and fireplaces, a laundry area for residents, and mechanical and facilities support spaces. The building’s layout efficiently organizes residential units on both sides of a central organizing spine on three residential floors. Major common spaces are located on the level below the main entry level, which overlooks recreation fields. “The character of the living spaces can be categorized as a ‘soft loft,’ with natural linoleum flooring, use of bold accent walls and high ceilings in the unit living areas,” said Meg Needle, AIA, LEED AP, a Lord, Aeck & Sargent associate who is serving as project manager during the design and construction of the residence hall. 

With sustainable design features, the residence hall is expected to use approximately 50 percent less energy than a conventionally constructed facility. To improve energy efficiency, lighting strategies will include motion sensor switching, energy efficient lamps and generous amounts of daylighting. “We sited the building to enhance its energy efficiency,” said Needle. “In orienting the facility, we minimized its east and west exposures to reduce sun angles, thus reducing unwanted glare and heat gain. We will also preserve many nearby trees to provide natural sun shading from the south. With large windows we will take advantage of natural light as much as possible, provide access to views and use sunscreens to reduce direct solar gain where appropriate.” Needle said that other design strategies include an exterior building envelope with above average insulation values, energy efficient windows, and a geothermal mechanical system that will provide low operating costs and a long lifecycle. Water efficiencies, she noted, include rainwater collection for landscape irrigation, and water saving plumbing fixtures. Indoor air quality will be protected through the use of low VOC adhesives and coatings. Recycled and regional construction materials will be used, and construction waste will be recycled or reused to the greatest extent possible. 

Architecture draws from tradition and adds new elements Columbia’s campus, which in 1927 was moved to its current Decatur, GA, campus from Columbia, SC, comprises many classic gothic buildings of red brick. “In designing the new residence hall, we drew from historic details on campus, so the vocabulary of the facility will complement the campus vernacular but also will integrate some more contemporary elements that respond to sustainability, such as the engaged, sunshaded entry tower that marks the lobby and the panoramically-glazed community kitchen and fireplace room that overlooks a new outdoor courtyard,” said Joe Greco, AIA, LEED AP, project design principal. “The entry tower will be the signature beacon for the building. Inspired by ecclesiastical bell towers of the region, we designed the tower to help create a memorable three-story atrium space with larger, vertical glass openings punctuated by stepping masonry piers and cast stone detailing. We also employed modern metal detailing in the top of the tower and in the sunscreen system to relate the building to its time.” “Lord Aeck & Sargent has designed a building that will be very polite to Columbia’s traditional, brick gothic architecture, and yet inside will provide residents the space and amenities appropriate to their commitment as graduate students and leaders for the future of the church,” said Jim Philips, a Columbia trustee and chair of the seminary’s planning committee for the new building. 

Columbia Theological Seminary is located in Decatur, GA, was established in 1828 and is one of 10 theological institutions of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The seminary offers six graduate degree programs: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Theological Studies, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, Doctor of Educational Ministry, and Doctor of Theology in Pastoral Counseling. Currently 421 students are enrolled, representing 32 denominations, 35 states, and 10 countries. For more information, visit the seminary at 

Lord, Aeck & Sargent is an award-winning architectural firm serving clients in scientific, academic, historic preservation, arts and cultural, and multi-family housing and mixed-use markets. The firm’s core values are responsive design, technological expertise and exceptional service. In 2003, The Construction Specifications Institute awarded Lord, Aeck & Sargent its Environmental Sensitivity Award for showing exceptional devotion to the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly materials, and for striving to create functional, sensitive and healthy buildings for clients. In 2007, Lord, Aeck & Sargent was one of the first architecture firms to adopt The 2030 Challenge, an initiative whose ultimate goal is the design of carbon-neutral buildings, or buildings that use no fossil-fuel greenhouse gas-emitting energy to operate, by the year 2030. Lord, Aeck & Sargent has offices in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more information, visit the firm at

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