by Karlyn Hunt, staff writer
Warren Wilson faces a critical examination of values in the next few weeks as the school debates whether or not to salvage the building fondly known by students and faculty as the Log Cabin.
The cabin, now home to the Work Program Office and College Press, is one of the oldest buildings on campus. Constructed by students in 1933 to function as the Log Library, the cabin models the school’s dedication to the work program and reliance on its own resources. Architect Steve Farrell, Supervisor of Design and Construction, describes it as “a priceless example of student built structures.”
It was built using almost entirely materials from the campus; the wood was forested from the school grounds, and the door hinges and light fixtures are creations from the blacksmithing shop.
In 1933 students thought they had finished construction on the Log Cabin, but in 2011 we know that construction never ends. Today the cabin is suffering from critical structural breakdown. The building sits too close to the ground, causing the lower level of logs to rot from exposure to termites and moisture. Exterior logs are also displaying decay.
The deterioration demands immediate response, but the school’s course of action is not yet decided. Consultants assessing the financial value of the building are comparing the costs of preserving the structure with building a new one in its place. But monetary worth is not the only value in question.
“The biggest debate about whether we keep the log cabin or not is about asking Warren Wilson to bend our morals about the environmental impact and sustainability of our structures,” says Facilities Management and Technical Services (FMTS) supervisor Jason Lackey, “because we will never be able to live up to the LEED certified standards that we are trying to create.”
LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green building certification system. Six buildings on campus are currently LEED certified, while several others are healthy built structures, which principally meet the LEED standards but lack official certification. This high number of green buildings has advanced Warren Wilson’s reputation as an environmentally friendly, sustainable campus.
Lackey hopes to salvage the Log Cabin for its historic sentiment, but he fears it will compromise a core value of FMTS, stated on the office’s website, to “apply sustainability and self-sufficiency as best practicable to all facets of work.”
Yet despite discontent over the impossibility of converting the cabin into an ideally sustainable structure, Farrell and Lackey feel that the administration holds an overwhelming desire to restore the building. They feel the need to protect its cultural significance as one of the few historic buildings on campus.
“It’s a physical reminder of this institution’s past, which begs you to imagine how many people have been educated and inspired here,” says Dean of Work Ian Robertson, who opposes the proposal to destroy the “irreplaceable” cabin.
Repairing the cabin would not necessarily jeopardize the school’s commitment to sustainable infrastructure, argues Farrell. There are ways to reconcile the two. He envisions alternative possibilities to make the building greener by enhancing windows, insulation and mechanical systems. He would like to see solar energy incorporated into an improved building design.
Lackey says that the administration seems to value the historical significance of the building over its future environmental impact. The school’s present intentions are to save the building, basing the decision mostly on monetary ability. A course of action should be decided in the upcoming weeks once financial assessments are reviewed.