“Sustainability” was the word of the day on campus Friday when Punahou celebrated Earth Day with its annual Sustainability Fair. (More on that in a future post.) But did you know of an earlier time when Punahou led the world in showing that yellow + blue truly did equal green?
The need for an improved boy’s boarding facility was apparent. Some boys could be housed in Dole Hall but room was needed for more. To accommodate the growing demand from neighbor island families new accommodations had to be acquired.
Understanding this need, Punahou secured a major donation from the G.N. Wilcox trust ($25,000) and the Wilcox family ($5,000 from Elsie H. Wilcox, $5,000 from Mabel I. Wilcox, and $5,000 from Gaylord P. Wilcox) for the construction of what was to be named Wilcox Hall. Located on Rocky Hill, mauka of Alexander field, the structure would be three stories in height with a lounge, recreation room, and quarters for 32 boys.
Construction began in August 1936. Despite having electrical fixtures and some furniture delayed by a shipping strike, the building welcomed its first twenty-four residents on January 4, 1937.
Formal dedication of the hall was made on March 5, 1937. Speaking on behalf of her family, Senator Elsie Wilcox commented that, “If this hall, serving as a home for boys who come, as Mr. (G. N.) Wilcox did, from across the waters, can contribute in even a small measure to their development in character, defining of purpose, and preparation for future achievement, we will all be satisfied.” The Wilcox family must have been pretty satisfied with what Punahou was offering because six generations and ninety-six of its members would attend the school by 2008. Three would serve as Punahou trustees.
One of the features of the new building included what is today seen as a standard for sustainability: a solar water heater. In an October 9, 1936 letter to school President Oscar F. Shepard, building architect C. W. Dickey wrote:
I am sending you a drawing showing a cross section of the Dormitory roof and a practical method for installing the solar heater and boiler. If Mr. Mahoney will follow this drawing I think there will be no difficulty about water pressure.
Contrary to the tone of the letter, John Wolfton Mahoney (Punahou shop teacher 1922-1951) had concerns regarding the heater. The above letter bears his penciled comments regarding the proposal:
“… and an IMpractical method for installing …”
“… will be no difficulty about water pressure BUT PLENTY OF OTHER TROUBLE.”
Regardless, Mr. Mahoney had his shop boys hard at work designing the heater.
The Punahou shop boys have gone scientific for the time being. They are now doing research work on sun heaters. Their object is to gather accurate information in preparation for building heaters for the new boys’ dormitory. They are planning a super-heater with something like 1400 feet of copper pipe in the heating element and storage capacity of more than 400 gallons of hot water.
The boys have been conducting experiments with different kinds of glass and various metals under varying conditions. Their results are being plotted on numerous graphs. Conway Marcellino, Kwai Fook Lee, Jack Locey, and Norman Olstad are doing the work. (“Boys Will Build Heater for Dorm: Shop Classes Make Tests of Various Types of Material.” Ka Punahou. 6 Oct. 1936.)
The heater was ready for installation by November. In a November 19, 1936 letter to W. F. Dillingham, Oscar Shepard explained that:
It does not appear to me that the installation of the solar heater has in any delayed construction work upon Wilcox Hall. The roofer had shingles on only half of the total roof area last Tuesday, at which time we notified the architect’s office that we were ready to install the solar heater. … Incidentally, the roofer is, I believe, quite pleased with the idea of our using five-ply roofing material under the heater in lieu of the shingles since his supply of shingles seems to be insufficient to cover all of the roof area.
When installed, the 500 gallon solar water heater was believed to be the world’s largest. Ka Punahou commented that, “There is a larger unit in Egypt, but it is used for producing power and is built on a different principle.” (“Giant Solar Heater At Dorm Thought to Be World’s Largest.” 8 Dec. 1936.) The heater was composed of six units covering a roof area of 22 x 14 feet. An initial test showed that its 300 gallons of water could be heated in three hours to a temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. It used 1400 feet of copper tubing that was fastened to 308 square feet of copper backing.
But Mr. Mahoney’s comments would prove to be prophetic as the solar water heater did not last. Commenting on it in his Punahou School oral history, he said that: “The trouble with it was that in the summer time it used to blow off steam–the water would come out of there 180 degrees and it would turn to steam.”
Records do not show when the system was dismantled but the heater was no longer in use when the last boarding students checked out of Wilcox Hall in June, 1963.
Today Wilcox Hall is part of the $26 million Omidyar K-1 Neighborhood. Interestingly, the complex received LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification in 2012 for energy conservation, water efficiency, and improved indoor environmental quality through its use of the following sustainable features:
- Outdoor creative learning center with Hawaiian educational gardens and indigenous plantings.
- Recycling center.
- Community room/dining hall – healthy food choices, waste management.
- Bioswale for outdoor discovery and to manage water runoff and drainage.
- Photovoltaic panels with Web-based data showing usage, PV system to provide approximately 60 percent of the total energy demand.
- Agriculture plantings of bananas, papaya, sweet potato, etc.
- Garden plots to facilitate the Garden to Market curriculum.
- Classrooms designed to provide a comfortable thermal environment and introduce natural daylight to minimize the need for artificial lighting.
- Cisterns that will reduce water usage by 30 to 40 percent in conjunction with water-saving fixtures.
- Lo‘i for taro and other Hawaiian plants.
- Windmill to demonstrate the power of the wind to produce energy and pump water through the bioswale.
- Energy-efficient lighting and air-conditioning system with occupancy and daylight sensors.
Notice something missing? Right. No solar water heating! Mr. Mahoney would be glad to know that, sometimes, history does not repeat itself.