Building History

601 S. Main Street was built before the turn of the century (1860s) as a college chapter house for Sigma Phi. It housed various fraternities until 1955 when it was vacated. The property was then sold by the Colleges and became a rental property. In 1987 the building was repossessed by the city of Geneva after falling into disrepair. In 1991 HWS purchased the building and it remained condemned until its renovation in 2003.

The building was reopened as the Finger Lakes Institute in June 2004 and dedicated in October 2004. Funding for its renovation came through the support of NY State Senator Michael Nozzolio ($1 million) and US Congressman James Walsh ($150,000).

The Finger Lakes Institute received the 2009 EPA ENERGY STAR Small Business Award for increasing the energy efficiency of its facility through energy management improvements over a two-year period. Only six other small businesses across the country received the same honor in 2009.

Energy Systems

Students at HWS designed the energy system used for the FLI building to operate completely on renewable energy resources.

Solar Panels

Solar panels were installed in October 2004. The system is a 165 W photovoltaic module, transferring solar power directly into electricity. The module is connected to the grid so, in case not all of the electricity produced is consumed, it can be sold back to the energy company and deducted from the bill. In its first year of recorded data (March 2005–March 2006) the solar panels produced 1,348 kilowatt hours, which is equivalent to generating enough electricity to power approximately twelve 13–watt compact florescent light bulbs continuously 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Below are more facts about the solar panels:

  • Total cost for panels: $14,305.50—106 years to pay off based on 2005–2006 generation
  • Twelve 165 W modules
  • Each Module contains 54 solar cells connected in a series; 25V max volts, 6.6 max amps
  • Panel Peak Power is 1,980 Watts
  • System weight is 468 lbs.
  • March is the month when the most power is generated


Wind energy supplies the balance of the electricity used at the FLI and at Hobart and William Smith Colleges through an agreement between HWS and Community Energy, Inc., a renewable energy marketer and developer. The Colleges have begun purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates equal to 100 percent of the campus' electricity use, or 12,000-megawatt hours of electricity, which will be matched annually with wind energy entering the electricity grid in the United States.


The FLI interior temperature is regulated by a geothermal heating and cooling system, also known as a "geo-exchange system." Geothermal heating and cooling systems work by moving heat, rather than by converting chemical energy to heat like in a furnace. A total of 20 wells, drilled to the depth of 100 feet, were installed to use the earth's constant temperature, 55 degrees F, as a heat source or heat sink, depending on the season.

The heat pump system for the FLI consists of six units. These pumps use electricity to move heat from the geothermal source to the surface. The US EPA has concluded that the geothermal heating and cooling system is one of the most favorable technologies to use in terms of operating efficiency and economics. Although geothermal heat pumps cost more to install than conventional space conditioning systems, the additional investment can be recovered in three to five years through lowered heating and cooling bills and minimum maintenance expenses.

Water Conservation

Low Flow Toilets

According to the American Water Works Association, toilets installed prior to 1994 use 3.5 to 7 gallons of water per flush and as much as 20 gallons per person per day. With an efficient ultra low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet, one person can save up to 7,000 gallons of water per year! At the average cost of water in Geneva, N.Y., a family of four can save up to 28,000 gallons of water and over $181 per year on toilet use alone. FLI has installed two ultra low-flow 1.6 gallon water saving toilets. Not only do low-flow toilets save water and money, they also lower the demand for larger wastewater treatment plant capacity.

Hot Water Supply

Research indicates that a typical household wastes between 8,000 and 10,000 gallons of water per year waiting for hot water to come out of the tap. In the FLI building, three on-demand mini-tank hot water heaters have been installed to save water, energy, space and time. Instead of heating and reheating a traditional large centralized water tank, the small point-of-use system provides hot water immediately after the hot water tap is opened until it runs out. The recovery of hot water takes approximately 20 minutes. The on-demand system saves the energy and time a traditional central 40 gallon hot water tank would otherwise use to heat, reheat and supply hot water. And, there is no water wasted down the drain while waiting for hot water.

Soil Conservation


Sediment enters Seneca Lake by erosion of land each year, which causes poor water quality, increased turbidity, and accelerated nutrient inputs. In recognition of the impacts of shoreline development, the FLI has chosen not to alter the property’s shoreline of Seneca Lake. The large trees and ground cover stabilize the soils along the steep bank, absorbing nutrients that would otherwise enter the lake and slow the flow of water runoff, which often carries silt and nutrients. In 2009, a rain garden was installed behind the building.

Demonstration Rain Garden

A rain garden is designed to soak up rainwater running off of driveways, patios, sidewalks, and roads. It protects water quality by filtering pollution and decreasing erosion. The FLI’s Demonstration Rain Garden was planted by volunteers in 2009. The rain garden is estimated to be 300 square feet to accommodate the drainage area and soil type. Native plants were selected for the garden because of their winter hardiness, ability to grow in clay soil, and resistance to disease and insect pests.

A rain garden:

  • Recharges local groundwater
  • Protects waterways by filtering pollutants
  • Reduces erosion of stream banks and lakeshores

Building Materials

Synthetic Decking

The back deck of the FLI was built with synthetic lumber made from recycled and reclaimed wood and plastic products, primarily recycled plastic grocery bags, reclaimed pallet wrap, and waste wood. The durable and synthetic deck contains no toxic chemicals or preservatives.

Recycled Materials

Special attention was given to selecting the items used to furnish the FLI building. For example, recycled oak wine barrel staves, which came from the Finger Lakes region, were used to create a seat for the bench in the reception area. The remaining furniture, which furnishes the majority of the building, was chosen specifically because of efforts by its makers, KI, a Rochester company, to use manufacturing methods that emphasize pollution prevention, including waste minimization, recycling, and the use of alternative, non-hazardous materials. The FLI chose particular office furniture that contains up to 100% recycled fabric, plastic and steel components.


The Icynene Insulation System installed within the walls, ceiling and floors reduces heat flow by 92.2% and controls air leakage so that building heating efficiency increases by 30-50%. In addition to its effectiveness, use of Icynene foam improves air quality by eliminating the penetration of dust, allergens, and pollutants and by controlling humidity, thereby reducing potential mold and mildew. Icynene also has a significant effect on reducing sound entering from busy streets, loud entertainment rooms, and classrooms. Besides having a low waste volume, Icynene is 100% water-blown and contains no harmful chemicals or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Energy Conservation


Motion detector sensors are installed so that lighting is on only when a FLI room is in use. The building is lit with Energy Star certified compact fluorescent bulbs.

Hot Water

The FLI installed three point-of-use water heating units to conserve the energy and time a traditional central water tank would otherwise use to heat, reheat, and supply hot water. Electricity, generated by wind and solar energy, power the mini-tank hot water heaters. The mini-tank heaters use an electric heating module and provide hot water on-demand. Energy is saved by eliminating the long runs of pipe and the need to heat an entire water storage tank. Each unit functions with immediate water supply between 65-145 degrees F with 110 volts, 1500 watt heating capacity, and 150 pounds per square inch.

Office Composting

The FLI worm bin, or vermicomposting system, is an efficient way to convert our kitchen waste, cardboard, newspaper, junk mail, yard waste and other organic matter into nutrient rich compost for our indoor plants, rain garden, and flowerbeds. Our worm bin system has 3 stacking trays atop a collection tray and base with spigot. 1,000 red wiggler composting worms were added to start up the composting system. In order for the system to function properly, it is important to always add food waste to the top working stacking tray. After all of the trays are full, we look to the bottom stacking tray, the tray that has been composting the longest, for the ready compost.

Common organic waste items which are generated by the FLI office include coffee grinds and filters, empty sugar packets, tea bags and tags, fruit rinds and peels, shredded newspaper, junk mail and office paper. In order to supplement the system, we ensure the worms are fed enough and keep the compost pH balanced. FLI staff members bring in organic waste from home, such as laundry lint, rinsed egg shells, and food waste. Meat waste, bones and pet feces are avoided in the system to limit foul odors and to not attract nuisance critters. Non-biodegradable items that should not be added to the compost, but often accidentally are, include staples from tea bag tags, wax/plastic/foil coated wrappers, greenware and toothpicks. The system is very easy to maintain by adding organic waste biweekly and draining the compost tea liquid weekly. Our bottom tray has ready compost approximately every 3 months. Depending on the season, we keep the worm bin indoors so that it stays in temperatures of 40-80 degrees F.

Green Roof

Green roofs are roofs covered with vegetation and growing medium to provide many economic, social, and environmental benefits. Stormwater is absorbed and filtered naturally through the green roof vegetation, reducing the pollution of stormwater run-off. In addition to managing stormwater, green roofs provide insulation, create habitat for wildlife, and reduce the heat island effect. The Colleges installed a green roof over the dorms at Comstock Hall that consists of native vegetation as well as sensors to measure temperature, heat index, dewpoint temperature, and humidity. The Colleges plan to install a larger green roof on the future Performing Arts Center.

Permeable Pavement

Permeable pavement is one of the most effective ways to manage stormwater. As opposed to impermeable surfaces that don’t allow water to penetrate, permeable pavements enable water to filter back into the ground. Not only does the system recharge the groundwater, but it also decreases surface water pollution, hinders flooding, and prevents the formation of stagnant puddles where mosquitoes like to breed. Options for permeable pavements include pervious concrete, porous asphalt, paving stones, or plastic-based pavers. The Finger Lakes Institute installed a porous asphalt driveway in August 2012.


Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.