The Nicholas School of the Environment will enter an era of transition this Fall with the arrival of a new dean and the completion of Environment Hall.
Alan Townsend's term as dean of the Nicholas School becomes effective July 1 as Dean William Chameides steps down. Townsend is an ecosystem ecologist, former director of the Division of Environmental Biology at the National Science Foundation and former professor at and director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Both the new dean and the opening of the new Environment Hall—the latter of which was made official in April—help to implement promising visions for the school's future, said Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and member of the University’s search committee for the selection of the new dean.
“Symbolically, the school is at a turning point, and part of that is moving into a new building,” Murray said. “We are already running at a really good trajectory in the Nicholas School, and I think that [Townsend] is going to accelerate it.”
Townsend, who was also associate director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at UC Boulder, has developed an international reputation for his ability and creativity in finding solutions for complex environmental problems, Murray said. In addition, Townsend is the best match to fulfill the University’s mission to focus on multidisciplinary knowledge in the service of society.
“He is just a really dynamic thinker about very complex problems,” Murray said.
These complex environmental problems—termed “wicked problems”—are currently a major challenge to society. Solving highly complex environmental problems has been an ongoing effort of the Nicholas School will continue to be a major focus going forward, Murray noted, over the last several decades, simple engineering solutions were used to solve straightforward environmental issues such as improving water and air quality.
“The wicked complex problems we face now involve more than one medium and more than one source,” he said. “The economic behind them is even more complex. It is much more difficult than just cleaning up the point sources in the water and air.”
In addition to being a terrific scientist, Townsend has also demonstrated solid academic leadership skills that will prove valuable during his tenure as the leader of an institution like the Nicholas School, noted Lori Bennear, associate professor of Environmental Economics and Policy and member of the search committee to find the new dean.
“He really wowed us, from his cover letter to the time we hired him,” Bennear said. “His leadership style is transparent, open and having really good visions about the future of higher education in general, and where the Nicholas School fits into that.”
The addition of Environment Hall to campus is another change for the Nicholas School, and one that embraces the environmental sustainability goal of the school by employing utilities that are eco-friendly.
Chilled beam technology on the upper three floors of the building is an important energy-conserving strategy used at Environment Hall, said Project Manager Myron Taschuk. Other environmentally friendly features of the building include the collection of rainwater from its roof as well as a portion of the Levine Science Research Center's roof for irrigation and toilet flushing. The building’s high-performance curtain wall enclosure brings sunlight to interior spaces and mitigates solar heat gain.
"These features conserve energy and water. The building will cost less to operate and will lessen environmental impacts while supporting the University mission of teaching and research," Taschuk said.
Bennear noted that Environment Hall is a legacy of Chameides and serves to further connect the campus to the school and its mission.
“All our colleagues are relatively close together now,” she said. “That will continue to foster interdisciplinary collaboration.”