Morven Park Digs Geothermal System

Workers dig trenches, above, and fuse pipes, below, as they finish drilling 73 geothermal wells under Morven Park's front lawn.
Workers dig trenches, above, and fuse pipes, below, as they finish drilling 73 geothermal wells under Morven Park's front lawn. (Photos By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Arianne Aryanpur
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

The sprawling Greek Revival mansion at Morven Park has been through many changes since its humble beginnings as a farmhouse in 1781. But with the deep trenches that crews finished digging this week across its front lawn, the landmark outside Leesburg is undergoing a different kind of transformation.

Morven Park is going green.

As part of a $7 million renovation, the mansion is getting a geothermal heating and cooling system that will limit fossil fuel use, save energy costs and reduce the chance of fire or water damage to its historic collections, park officials said.

Geothermal systems are gaining in popularity, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In recent years, companies have installed such systems in several houses and businesses in the region. Tidewater Preservation, the company doing the work at Morven Park, built a geothermal system this year at Kenmore, the former mansion of George Washington's sister in Fredericksburg.

Tidewater President Fred Ecker, whose Fredericksburg company specializes in restoring historic museums, houses and churches, said the geothermal system is appealing because it's eco-friendly and cost-effective.

Morven Park officials weren't planning to install a geothermal system when they drafted plans to renovate the mansion in early 2000, said William O'Keefe, the park's executive director. They were looking only to give the mansion's exterior a $2 million facelift, O'Keefe said.

"Anyone at that time could have stood outside and seen we had serious problems. Big pieces of stucco were coming off," he said.

When Tidewater Preservation workers examined the building, they found the problems weren't just external; serious water damage had undermined the mansion's foundation. That's when Morven Park decided that an interior overhaul, including a new heating and cooling system, was necessary.

A geothermal system relies on the fact that the Earth maintains a relatively constant temperature throughout the year. Wells absorb the ground heat and pump back water at a temperature suitable for both heating and cooling. The controls are computer-regulated and produce the controlled climate that museums require, park officials said.

"The collections will have never been in as a good an environment," O'Keefe said.

This week, crews finished drilling 73 wells in front of the mansion, the first step in the process.

Morven Park officials said they expect to cut their energy costs by at least 50 percent. They are also hoping the sophisticated system will allow them to expand their programs.

"We now have the possibility of hosting different art exhibitions that we might not have been able to in the past" because of temperature-control issues, O'Keefe said.

All the renovations are scheduled to be completed by 2009.

The mansion at Morven Park was last renovated from 1963 to 1967. It was home to Maryland Gov. Thomas Swann in the 19th century and Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis in the 20th century.

Davis's wife established the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation, which runs the estate, after her husband's death in 1942. From 1942 until her death in 1963, the mansion was largely uninhabited and fell into disrepair. After the renovation in the 1960s, the mansion opened to the public.

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