Like other Colorado College students, sociology major Manuel Meraz had to find another place besides the campus library to study last school year. Most of Tutt Library was closed for renovations.
On Monday, after the first day of class that kicked off the school's 144th academic year, Meraz was back at it.
The junior made himself at home in a comfy chair inside the just-completed $45 million rejuvenation that makes the 1962 building seem brand new.
"I like to do all of my work outside of where I live, so having it back open is nice," Meraz said. "It looks incredible. Honestly, it's kind of overwhelming."
The completely "green" building at 1021 N. Cascade Ave. has been expanded by 25,000 square feet for a total of 100,000 square feet. It now has the distinction of being the nation's largest net-zero carbon footprint academic library. That means the natural-gas-powered building offsets the amount of carbon it produces.
A geothermal heating and cooling system, which college staff designed, takes heat from the earth in the winter and returns it in the summer.
That's accomplished by 80 wells buried 400 feet deep outside the library piping water into the building and recirculating it in a continuous loop.
The mechanical system "takes the library beyond LEED-certified energy standards and into efficiency territory that no other library in the nation has gone," said Chris Coulter, director of facilities services.
The project was a quick turnaround of 15 months, to achieve the goal of construction being contained to one academic year.
"This was all dirt four days ago," Coulter said, pointing to fresh concrete near the new south-facing entrance where people gathered Monday for the opening celebration.
"The contractors called it 'The Miracle on Cascade'," he said.
"Really cool," "impressive" and "awesome" were among the praises from students as they toured the top four floors. Features include a flood of natural light, unencumbered mountain views, rooftop solar panels, garden terraces, individual and group study spaces, a cafe with patio seating, labs and classrooms, and furniture that envelops the body and caters to wireless devices.
"I love how spacious it is," said sophomore Karina Grande. "I want to study here every day."
Half a million books are stored within, many on the lower garden level on high-volume, energy-efficient shelves that rotate with the push of a button.
There's an experimental classroom where professors can pioneer new learning techniques, a Geographic Information System lab, a data visualization lab, a writing center, a quantative reasoning center, a center for academic excellence and contemporary soundproof pods with electrical connections for devices.
College President Jill Tiefenthaler said the building - the "center of campus that serves as the intellectual hub" - is distinctive in many ways, from the environmentally sustainable construction and daily operations to stunning views of Pikes Peak and innovative interior space.
"It's a great symbol of our values, our history and our sustainability," she said. "It's here for our students to serve their academic needs as well as their social needs."
A geometric ribbon design in varying shades of red wraps around the building and ties in with the rock of nearby 1904 Palmer Hall and the mountain theme.
Tutt Library is named for Charles Leaming Tutt Jr., a former CC trustee who as the president of El Pomar Foundation orchestrated a $1.25 million grant to help build the original library. A lifesize bronze statue of Tutt was relocated to the front of the library and unveiled during the ceremony.
The library remains open to the public. Among its collections are art books from the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and a rare book collection with 2,000 volumes.
"The library is one of the most important places on campus," said Grande, the sophomore. "It's where you can find your resources and study by yourself or with study groups. It's one of the central places to go. A lot of my friends are excited about using the library."