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100-year-old hotel is on cutting edge

BEREA — Daniel Boone never slept at Boone Tavern, "but he surely did sleep on the hillsides nearby," says Gary McCormick, the hotel's general manager.

Left unsaid is the notion that the frontiersman would be pleased with what has happened to his namesake.

Celebrating its 100th year of operation, the venerable hotel is completing a major green renovation.

Berea College, which owns the hotel, plans to ask the U.S. Green Building Council to grant it a silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certificate. It would be the first hotel in Kentucky to be LEED certified.

Guests will see a difference the moment they arrive: The preferred parking places are reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles. There are even outlets to recharge the batteries of electric cars. Bicycles are available for those who don't want to drive during their stay.

Inside, there's plenty of fresh paint and new carpet. But there is none of that "new" smell, which comes from VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which are not good for your health.

Some hotels "go green" by putting small signs in rooms asking guests to hang towels to be used again instead of being laundered. There's always a suspicion that you're helping the hotel's bottom line as much as the environment.

At Boone Tavern, the goal is being green without giving up comfort.

"It's so much more than just 'reuse your towels,'" McCormick said. "Yes, we have that option, but we don't want you to feel like we're putting you out. It's just the natural way we run the hotel."

Guests might notice ceiling fans in their rooms or windows that open to let in a breeze.

Those who are especially attentive might read the small print on the coffee provided in the rooms. It is fair-trade coffee, which means it was produced on small farms using environmentally friendly methods.

The shampoos, soaps and cleaning products are petroleum free and developed without animal testing.

Guests also might notice that sometimes, in the name of water conservation, toilets need to be flushed twice to do their job.

The college's board of trustees started talking about renovating the hotel about four years ago. All new construction or significant renovations on the campus are required to follow LEED standards, although not all go through the complicated certification process.

The hotel was closed for five months last year for the kitchen to be renovated, then closed again from November to March for work on the rest of the building.

As part of following LEED guidelines, three-fourths of the construction and demolition waste was kept out of landfills. Some items were sold, and some donated to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

The hotel has reopened while a few finishing touches are being made.

Although nearly everything in the hotel has changed, many changes will not be noticed.

They include:

■ Some of the elaborate woodwork in the lobby is new, some old, but it all matches perfectly. And the new wood is from sustainability-managed forests.

■ Insulation wasn't a priority when the hotel was built in 1909, but the renovation leaves the building sealed against weather that is too hot or cold.

■ There's a lot more natural light. The hotel's original dining room has skylights, but they had been covered so long that no one remembered they were there. New energy-efficient skylights now bathe the renamed Skylight Room.

■ Heat from the dishwashers' waste water is captured and diverted to the heating system.

■ The roof and land scaping are designed to minimize the "heat island effect" produced by buildings.

■ More of the food served in the dining room is grown by Berea College students or bought from Kentucky farmers. Vegetable scraps are sent back to the student garden to help grow more food.

McCormick says Boone Tavern expects to reduce its annual energy use by nearly 18 percent.

It also hopes to cash in on the growing number of groups and individual guests who would prefer to stay at a green hotel.

Also important: keeping the hotel's historic character intact.

"We wanted to make sure there was enough of the old here along with the new, the things that guests expect today," McCormick said.

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