Honoring Site & Surroundings Through Sustainability

The choice, when seen from air, was a wide expanse of beautiful pines on land suitable for construction surrounding a lake. There was no question in my mind that this was the place.

– Elizabeth Barstow Alton, Stockton founder, 1968

Stockton University has its roots, physical and figurative, in the Pine Barrens, a million-acre reserve in southern New Jersey that accounts for more than 20% of the state’s land area. Upon seeing the site on which Stockton would be built, founder Elizabeth Barstow Alton remarked, “The choice, when seen from air, was a wide expanse of beautiful pines on land suitable for construction surrounding a lake. There was no question in my mind that this was the place.” 

Stockton’s connection to its surroundings has guided the University from its founding, informing everything from mission and educational offerings to construction and maintenance practices. Stockton’s campus was thoughtfully designed and constructed in the late 1960s and early 1970s with attention to existing topography, site history, and ecological systems. This consciousness manifested sustainable strategies which established the University as a leader in environmental education and sustainable practices. Stockton’s history of sustainability made inevitable the decision to pursue and receive LEED Gold Certification for its Campus Center.


The site is located in the center of campus at the confluence of existing walkways, College Walk and Flagpole Walk, to enhance connectivity on campus and create an epicenter for student activity as well as a vibrant social scene. This project earned 10 of 14 possible Sustainable Sites LEED credits including one for Community Connectivity due to the Center’s proximity to 10 services within a half-mile, specifically a theater, bank, restaurants, bookstore, sports center, library, art gallery, Holocaust resource center, and a nature trail. 

The new Campus Center promotes responsible site development by maximizing open space and conserving natural areas to provide habitat and promote biodiversity, thereby minimizing the impact of the building on the surrounding Pine Barrens. Landscaped gardens are located throughout the site immediately surrounding the building and public access is invited through boardwalks, pergolas, and outdoor seating.


The Campus Center’s water use is 40% below standard construction partially due to use of low-flow fixtures with sensors and automatic controls as well as waterless urinals. These water-efficient methods allow the Campus Center to save approximately one million gallons per year. In addition, most of the surrounding landscape plantings are native and/or adaptive to the local environment and do not require supplemental irrigation.


In 1994, the University implemented a geothermal ground source loop. Comprised of 400 wells buried 25 feet beneath a four-acre parking lot, the well field was largest in the nation at the time. The system provided heating and cooling for 75% of the original complex of academic buildings, decreasing Stockton’s electric consumption by 25% and natural gas consumption by 70%. It was determined that this existing group source loop had more than adequate capacity to serve the entire heating and cooling load for the Campus Center building. Existing pumps were relocated to distribute geothermal water to the Campus Center and two other buildings.

Stockton also had an existing ATES system on campus, through which a large volume of ground water is charged in the winter time by pulling  water out, chilling it with evaporative cooling and returning to the ground. The water is then utilized during the cooling season to supplement building cooling loads. The goal is to obtain 50°F from the ATES chilled water system and return it back at 67°F. The Campus Center’s chilled water system is optimized to obtain the most of the ATES system, utilizing a chilled water loop temperature differential of 47°F to 67°F.


During construction, a number of energy conserving measures were utilized including high performance glass, R-11 insulated exterior walls, R-18 insulated roof construction, heat recovery units, and high-efficiency chillers to achieve a total yearly energy savings of 30% over the base line usage for a building of this size.


Building material choices are integral to sustainable design. Materials and products used in construction were selected and specified as having low or no emitting Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and no formaldehydes to help ensure healthful indoor air quality. These air-born compounds are odorous, irritating, and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of both construction workers and occupants. The team chose paints, coatings, adhesives, carpets, sealants, and plywood/composite wood substrates according to this goal.

The design team also made conscious efforts to incorporate products and materials that are entirely recycled or contain a significant amount of recycled product. More than 20% of the total value of materials incorporate pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled material, particularly steel framing, deck, metal panel systems, curtainwall systems, metal doors, acoustic ceiling panels, and gypsum board.

The Campus Center is composed of more than 75% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Wood.


Stockton’s campus, pedagogy, and landscape are bound to the identity and rare ecology of the Pine Barrens. The ecological complexity of the Pine Barrens was recognized (after Stockton’s original campus was built) by Congress in 1978 as the country’s first National Reserve and internationally designated as a UNESCO “Man and the Biosphere” Reserve in 1983. The Pinelands ecosystem includes some 1,300 species of which 92 plants and 43 animals are endangered or threatened. As such, the overarching strategy for vegetation at the Campus Center was to create communities of native plants and to reestablish natural wildlife habitat.

With a footprint of 73,000 sf, the project site did not have the land area on which to construct a detention/retention basin to manage stormwater runoff, making it necessary for the design team to address stormwater management through other methods. Solutions included a series of vegetated swales, lawn terraces, rain gardens, and a wetland complex in addition to a sub-grade water retention and infiltration system to filter water quality and manage run off associated with the 10-year storm. Rain gardens created new plant habitats and allow for infiltration to the aquifer through multiple, small basins that accept runoff to a central basin and then distribute the excess water concentrically.

The textural & ecological importance of sand and water combined with the specificity of pine barren plant associations are synthesized within the Campus Center site that also works as an important physical and psychological programmatic zone. The wooded area, historically called ‘the filter,’ through which a series of paths choreograph movement from the vast parking lots to the campus core represents one of three healthy sections of Pine Barren forest in direct relationship with the everyday campus experience. As a college nestled in the rare ecology of the Pine Barren, the wooded filter and parking lot buffers reinforce the beauty and reality of the context.

Stockton’s Campus Center is an architectural expression of the power of sense of place; its sustainable design honors its surroundings while connecting people, place, and planet.