CRAFTBURY COMMON, VT. — When Sterling College recently set out to design its first new student residency in more than 40 years, where did they start? In the classroom, of course, with a special topics course entitled “Green Dorms” taught by Sterling faculty and an architectural planner from Stowe, VT, and funded by a $65,000 grant.

That course ended this past May with the site work determined and three design schemes created by three teams of students.

“At first there was a tendency to be so “green” as to make the place unlivable,” said Sterling’s President Will Wootton. “But over time everyone learned to compromise that desire with a genuine level of green practicality. The notion from the start was build small, tight, and smart and that’s where the class got to in the end.”

Now, with a recent Vermont state grant of $350,000 and the remaining $55,000 Canaday Family Trust grant, in addition to other funds, including some matching money from a Department of Energy grant, a Sterling community building committee will begin working with the Cushman Design Group of Stowe to complete detailed plans and begin construction in March.

The 100-student college is determined that their completed residency will be environmentally on par with but considerably less expensive than other recent green building efforts at New England colleges and universities.

“I don’t doubt that’s the way it will turn out,” Wootton said. “For generations, Sterling’s environmental standards have far outpaced the norm. Per person, we use half the water than most institutions use. We have no ice machine in the dining hall, no soda machine, no deep-fat fryer. There hasn’t been a food tray at Sterling in 30 years. We grow and raise about 25 percent of our own organic food.”

Environmental consciousness is ingrained at the tiny college in the center of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, Wootton said. “In academics and in community,” he said, “Sterling puts the “practice” back into “theory and practice. That’s why we started with a class, and I’ll bet somehow we end with one, too.”