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College students, staff try to make campuses more earth-friendly

April 21, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
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TRI-STATE -- College students and staff in the Tri-State area are learning about "going green" from beyond the textbooks, opting to make their campuses more earth-friendly and energy-efficient.

In Franklin County, Pa., Wilson College is proving to be a leader in promoting environmental sustainability on campus.

The school's Harry R. Brooks Complex for Science, Mathematics and Technology received the county's first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The 75,000-square-foot building opened for classes about a year ago. It features low-emission paints and sealant, insulation made from recycled materials, Pennsylvania-quarried limestone, and a computer system that controls lights, ventilation and temperature.

Solar panels provide most of the energy to heat the building's water. The bathrooms have motion-activated faucets, waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets, which use different amounts of water depending on handle motion.

"Using these fixtures, we're conserving 39 percent of water compared to traditional fixtures," said Dana Harriger, a biology professor at the college.

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All the materials used in construction came from within 500 miles of the school. College officials tried to incorporate even smaller green concepts, such as installing dustless chalkboards instead of whiteboards with fume-producing plastic markers.

Harriger said visitors to the science complex are often most impressed with the computer system. Occupancy sensors determine when someone is in a room, then manage the lights and temperature.

"It doesn't have to maintain it if I'm not in the room," he said.

The systems require human awareness of how they work, Harriger said. For instance, people need to use main corridors and not cut through rooms with sensors that would turn on, he said.

"We basically retrained ourselves to get the building to operate efficiently," Harriger said.

At Shepherd University in Jefferson County, W.Va., the environmental studies department took several initiatives to provide real-life opportunities for students to practice their classroom lessons. The school boasts greenhouses, classroom space powered by solar panels, a van that operates on used cooking oil, and a wind turbine.

Students worked hard to prepare for and to install the equipment. Now, many of the graduates work in the field, according to Professor Ed Snyder, who serves as chairman of Shepherd's Institute of Environmental Studies.

The greenhouses are providing herbs and vegetables for use by the campus dining services, Associate Professor Clarissa Mathews said.

Students calculated the output from photovoltaics, commonly called solar panels, and researched the wiring needed, Snyder said.

"People began to realize it's really something you can do. If you want to put photovoltaics on your house, you can," he said, saying they cost $24,000 to $40,000.

Hagerstown Community College plans to use solar, wind and geothermal components in the construction of its new science, technology, engineering and math building.

"Part of that ties into curriculum as well," college spokeswoman Beth Stull said.

The 65,000-square-foot building will be five stories high. Construction is expected to start this summer and continue through the fall of 2011, Stull said.

Wilson College also partners in a community-supported agricultural program. The Fulton Center for Sustainable Living harvests not just potatoes and tomatoes, but novelty produce like celery root and Asian greens.

"The easiest way to explain it is a subscription for vegetables," said Chris Mayer, the program manager who oversees the farm and activities.

Farm officials sold 105 shares this year to people who arrive weekly to pick up their portion of the current harvest. Their first harvest will be in early May because plants are already growing in solar tunnels.

"We're starting to plant out in the field. ... We're looking forward to another good season here," Mayer said.

The college's farmer, Eric Benner, works with 5 acres on any given year, rotating to allow fields to lay fallow as needed. The Fulton Farm is "certified naturally grown," which is a different category from organic, Mayer said.

One of the nice things about the Fulton Farm, she said, is it receives its operating capital in the spring when most needed.

"The shareholders share in the risks as well as the rewards. It helps keep our local food dollars in the community," Mayer said.

A full share costs $520 for 28 to 30 weeks of approximately 50 total varieties of vegetables. Some people opt to work in the field to receive a discount on the share price, according to Mayer.

Although the program has a waiting list, some of the produce can be purchased at the North Square Farmers' Market on North Main Street in Chambersburg, Pa., Mayer said.

"We usually have an offering of fresh herbs," she said.

Wilson College work-study students work at the farm, as do community service organizations and up to four interns over the summer, Mayer said. Those interns often are interested in sustainable farming, she said.

The Fulton Center for Sustainable Living is doing pumpkin pollination research with the Penn State Cooperative Extension. It maintains honey bees.

Wilson College also replaced two of its gasoline-powered vehicles with all-electric ones.

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