The soaring ceiling, room-length fireplace, and glass doors that open to the outdoors give the lobby the flavor of a ski lodge crossed with an open-air café. However, the ambience of Olympia Avenue—Washington State University’s new residence hall—masks its eco-friendly bones: the exposed wood comes from old buildings, a retractable screen shades the lobby when it’s too sunny, and the floors are polished decorative concrete.

“I love the space. It’s just so exciting to live in a brand-new hall,” says sophomore Hannah Donaldson, one of about 230 residents of the new building. Donaldson, an animal sciences major from Sultan, points out that information throughout the building helps residents learn about the many sustainable features.

Olympia Avenue Hall boasts geothermal heating and cooling, a reflective roof, less water use, construction waste management, and sustainably-certified or recycled materials—all of it from within 500 miles of Pullman.

The first residence hall built on campus since 1971, Olympia Avenue sits on the hill above Rogers and Orton Halls, with water-sipping native plants in the front.

“A huge cistern underneath the parking lot collects rainwater funneled from the roof of the building to water the landscaping,” says Meg Autrey, residential education director in charge of the new hall. She and the Olympia Avenue staff educate residents on the building’s assets, along with tips to promote sustainability in the hall.

The “green” features aim toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating, a stamp of approval for sustainable construction, which Olympia Avenue expects to secure next year.

In addition to the environmental aspects, students can take advantage of leading-edge technology wired into the building. Computers pick up 60 TV channels over the high-speed connection and access the Internet via top-of-the-line wireless networks.

A card-based security system enhances the high-tech structure. Students and staff use their Cougar cards to get into the building, ride the elevators, enter a floor, and open their rooms. If they lose or forget a card, a convenient ATM-like machine in the lobby can issue a temporary replacement.

“The keyless system is really nice, because I don’t like having a bunch of keys. All I need is my card,” says Donaldson. “I feel a lot safer.”

After swiping the card, passengers ride the elevator to an olive-green carpeted hallway with a clean, new smell. The hallway ends at a common room labeled “chow,” featuring a full kitchen, TV, couches, and—as with many areas of the building—lots of windows to bring in natural light. Off the kitchen, three high-efficiency washers and dryers fill a laundry room.

“Parents are as excited about the space as the students are. They love the new furniture, the spacious rooms and kitchens,” says Autrey. “One mom was so impressed, she bought new pots and pans for the floor’s kitchen.”

A study lounge—called the “cram room”—on each floor, a full classroom, and advising room on the ground floor help students prepare for class. Autrey says freshman seminar classes will be held in the building’s classroom, and faculty or peer advisors may choose to have office hours or hold study sessions in Olympia Avenue.

Many of the rooms have private bathrooms, and the public bathrooms aren’t crowded, according to Donaldson. Whimsical towel and basket icons decorate the door, and signs explain how much water is saved each year by the efficient sinks, toilets, and showers: the equivalent of 141,840 glasses of water per bathroom.

In her room, Donaldson shows off the connections for computers and the low-flow sink, but the eye is drawn up and out. Light pours in from the tall window—with a strategically placed overhang to shade the room when the sun is low—and warms the high-ceilinged space. Outside, the golden Palouse hills roll into the distance toward Moscow Mountain.

“I feel so spoiled living here,” says Donaldson. “I don’t even call it my room. I call it my apartment.”

Web exclusive

Gallery of the new Olympia Avenue Hall. Photos by Zach Mazur and Robert Hubner

On the Web

Olympia Avenue Hall :: Official website

Olympia Avenue wins best student housing award (WSU Today, June 22, 2010)