Elm Staff Writer
Twenty years ago, the Center for Environment and Society was established to help Washington College students study and understand the connection between human activity and the health of the environment. All the department needed was a home. So, 11 years ago, the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall was conceptualized.
There was no telling how much time and effort it would take to fund and build the project. But at 5 p.m. on Oct. 18, students, faculty, and supporters of WC gathered at the waterfront to witness the grand opening of the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall and dedication.
“With the Chester River and Chesapeake Bay at our doorstep, what better place could there be for such an enterprise,” President Kurt Landgraf said. “With great optimism and foresight, college leaders identified the perfect spot for the new waterfront home.”
The area both the Environmental Hall and the Hodson Boathouse stand on was a brownfield site occupied by a fertilizer plant and a fuel depot. After the College bought the property, it was restored before construction began.
“I think [the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall] is an improvement,” Landgraf said, followed by audience laughter.
In attendance were the Environmental Hall’s benefactors and namesakes: Jay Griswold, former college president and board member, and Truman T. Semans, a founding member of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Also attending was Director of the Center for Environment & Society and Lammot du Pont Copeland Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Dr. John Seidel, and Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot.
Griswold, whose presidential portrait was unveiled at the Hodson Boathouse on Oct. 17, raised more than $103.4 million, and worked alongside former President John S. Toll to complete what was considered the most successful fundraising campaign of any small liberal arts college in Maryland.
Landgraf talked about the man he called “the emotional spearhead behind the project,” Larry Culp ’85.
Culp, who is chief executive officer and chairman of General Electric as well as a member of the WC Board of Visitors and Governors, was mentioned as a leader and cornerstone in the “Forge a Legacy” campaign.
The campaign was completed by raising $150 million, the success marked by the grand opening of the Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall.
“I remember the day when I heard that Mr. Culp thought that he could raise the money for this in ten months and I always thought he was extraordinary,” Landgraf said. “But I thought ‘no way.’ Well, [I was] wrong again.”
Venerated friend of WC, Peter Franchot was responsible for gaining support for the project at the state level.
The State of Maryland donated $4 million to the Environmental Hall.
The Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall was built to achieve a Living Building Challenge certification, meaning that the building must be made entirely from sustainable materials and produce at least 105% of the energy it consumes. This is done partially through the solar panels on its porch roof.
It is a unique learning space, featuring three innovative lab spaces with river flow-through systems connected to the Chester River.
All amenities are meant to help WC students gain insight into the state of the environment, how human activity affects it, and how to provide a more sustainable future.
The new building will serve as a place of study and sanctuary for members of the WC and Chestertown communities.
Through environmental awareness and education, the spread of knowledge will help WC set an example of accountability that will, hopefully, make a change on the local, state and national levels.
For more information on the building itself, readers can turn to the Sept. 11 Elm article, “Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall Construction On-Schedule.”