Champlain College renovates historic McDonald Hall with eye on sustainability

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Champlain College renovates historic McDonald Hall with eye on sustainability

Fri, 01/06/2023 - 2:29pm -- tim
Energy efficient building and system updates give new life to 126-year-old icon

Vermont Business Magazine Champlain College has just completed an eight-month renovation of McDonald Hall, one of Burlington's historic Victorian era mansions. The updated residence hall balances historical preservation with modern accessibility, comfort, and applied sustainability that are central to Champlain’s commitment to efficiency and progress toward carbon neutrality. 

McDonald Hall accommodates 45 students, with its first floor and lower level now fully accessible. The building is 100% fossil fuel free, replacing its natural gas heating with a new ground source heating and cooling (geothermal) and electric heat pump system. The HVAC system uses energy recovery ventilation to improve air quality and circulation, maintain humidity levels, and recycle heat that would otherwise be lost.

“McDonald Hall is one of the grandest homes in Burlington, lived in by the Smith family for two generations and carefully preserved throughout its 126-year history,” said Erica Donnis, Special Collections Director at Champlain College. “This renovation project has retained many original historic features, including interior wood paneling, doors, fireplaces, the main stairway, and porches, while making the necessary updates and accommodations for the building’s new life in the twenty-first century.” Neagley and Chase Construction were hired along with Colin Lindberg Architects and many other partners to ensure that the renovation and restoration preserved its historic charm with modern upgrades. 

Constructed in 1897 by Architect Walter R.B. Willcox, the Romanesque Revival residence was acquired by Champlain College in 1979 and has been home to more than 1,500 Champlain College students. For many, McDonald Hall represents life-changing memories and lasting friendships.  

All first-year students at Champlain College live in one of 21 Victorian-era mansions within a short walk of academic and student engagement facilities, creating a distinctive first-year living and learning experience.  Unlike living in typical cinder block dormitories, these residence halls are intimate homes in which students rapidly build community. Abbey Berger-Knorr, Class of 2024, reflects on her year in McDonald Hall, “I lived on the second floor overlooking Finney Quad from 2020-2021. My fondest memories of living in McDonald are of my room and the lounge area where residents would gather. I’d spend time there with my friends, often eating together during the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

This historic lounge space has been retained in its entirety — refitted with the original pocket-doors, updated with energy-efficient windows, and equipped with additional outlets and data ports —  ready to create new memories for future Champlain students who will call it home. 

Champlain College will be hosting an open house on January 11, 2023 where select members of the Champlain College community, Burlington and historic preservation communities are invited to tour and learn more about the renovated building. 

About Champlain College: Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland.  Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and a broad portfolio of online degrees and certificates through Champlain College Online. The College is known for its distinctive and innovative approach to career-focused education and its “upside-down” curriculum, which help students be: “Ready for Work. Ready for Life. Ready to Make a Difference.” Champlain ranks in multiple categories of U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges,” including Best Value Schools, Best Colleges in the North, Best Colleges for Veterans, and Top Performers on Social Mobility. Champlain was also listed among The Princeton Review’s “The Best 388 Colleges” in 2023 and was recognized as a 2022 College of Distinction for its “Engagement, Teaching, Community, and Outcomes.” For more information, visit

January 6, 2023, Burlington, VT — Champlain College