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Campus Operations makes UNC Asheville one of most sustainable campuses in UNC system

by Karen Anderson

Sam Millar Facilities Management

The mechanical room of Sam Millar Facilities Management Complex, the jewel in Campus Operations' crown of green construction projects.

On an aerial map that covers his office conference table, Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Operations Steve Baxley pinpoints numerous environmental features on UNC Asheville’s 165-acre wooded campus. Geothermal heating systems, rainwater catchment ponds, roof gardens that reduce a building’s “heat island,” solar panels, “energy misers” in vending machines. These projects, large and small, make UNC Asheville one of the most environmentally sustainable campuses in the UNC system.

A Sustainable and Award-Winning Campus

arrowNamed a leader in Landscaping and Grounds Programs in the 2004 National Wildlife Federation’s “State of the Campus Environment: A National Report Card on Environmental Performance and Sustainability in Higher Education.” The report praised UNC Asheville—one of only 15 campuses cited—for habitat restoration, native landscaping, removal of invasive exotic species, integrated pest management, and provision of food and shelter to attract wildlife.

arrowFor the last four years, UNC Asheville has been recognized by the State Energy Office for the lowest energy costs and usage of energy per square foot of any campus in the UNC system.

arrowMaintenance Team won 2007 Outstanding Team Award in universitywide annual awards program.

arrowCampus Operations won 2008 Excellence in Public Service Award among all state agencies in Buncombe County.

But what Baxley is proudest of isn’t something he can locate on a map. It’s the organizational climate in Campus Operations that promotes a culture of environmental sustainability and encourages managers and staff alike to continually ask, “How can we do this better?”

“The environmental ethos is shared by mechanical engineers, grounds crews, maintenance staff, housekeepers, support staff, everyone. It permeates Campus Operations and is not just practiced by one or two people. Everyone participates and brings ideas to the table,” Baxley says.

This culture has come into its own over the last decade with construction funding from the 2000 Higher Education Bond Referendum, which allowed UNC Asheville to put money where its values lay. The addition of $50 million in capital expenditures has not only had a substantial visible impact but also allowed Campus Operations to hone a management style whose core philosophy is that good ideas don’t always come from the top.

Green Construction

These projects employ green design features such as energy-efficient or geothermal heating/cooling, thermal windows, daylighting in offices (more windows), better and/or more insulation, and other energy-saving techniques. Employees turn off lights in unoccupied rooms and adjust thermostats down in winter and up in summer.

* Highsmith University Union (2003)

* New Hall (2006)

* Sam Millar Facilities Management Complex (2008)

* Zageir Hall renovation (2008)

* Zeis Science and Multimedia Building (2009)

* Rhoades-Robinson renovation (2010)

* N.C. Center for Health and Wellness (2011)

* Track field house (2010)

*Pisgah House, chancellor’s residence/hospitality center (2009)

“We challenge ideas and consider alternatives on every project,” Baxley says. “If we’re doing a renovation, for example, we ask, ‘What if we looked at this instead of that, what if we installed a heat pump system instead of gas fired boilers?”

He points to New Hall classroom building, one of the first bond projects, and the $9 million Rhoades Hall renovation, now under design, both of which will benefit from geothermal ground-source heating and cooling. New Hall has seen an 85 percent reduction in energy costs in comparison with older buildings that have the same square footage. “And there are no loud compressors outside classroom windows or cooling towers necessary. So we duplicate our successes,” he says.

The jewel in the crown of UNC Asheville’s sustainable buildings is Sam Millar Facilities Management Complex, with its geothermal ground-source heating and cooling, solar heat and hot-water heating, offices with lots of windows as a light source, vegetated roof areas, energy efficient lighting, and other practices—complex and simple—that lead to savings. For example, several bioretention ponds capture storm water that is then purified by plants acting as “organic filters,” thus preventing heavy metals from running off into streams.

Campus Operations

Terry Guriel of Campus Operations (right) shows pocketbooks made from recycled plastic bags during Campus Operations' "green" open house in spring 2009.

The Sam Millar building’s synergy is reflected among staff. “We try to break down the barriers between Design & Construction (the engineers and architect) and Facilities Management (maintenance staff),” Baxley says. “We talk about issues, so when someone says they’ve got a great new technology, the maintenance staff is at the table to say whether we can maintain it.”

Campus Operations’ “Big Three” sustainability goals aim to reduce consumption of electricity, petroleum and natural gas in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions. The state required a 20 percent reduction in petroleum usage by 2010, but UNC Asheville already has cut petroleum usage by 38 percent. Campus Operations’ fleet includes 10 electric vehicles, a compressed natural gas truck, two flex-fueled vehicles and four biodiesel trucks. All diesel-powered carts, equipment and tractors use biodiesel fuel. Even the chancellor drives a hybrid car. And a partnership with Asheville Transit Authority, the Passport Program, lets students, faculty and staff ride all city buses free. Bulldog Express provides a free shuttle downtown.

Housekeepers use green cleaning supplies and recycled paper products. Many receptacles are available on campus to allow the recycling of paper, plastics and cans. If trees must be harvested on university property, the wood is reused, as it was for construction of a bridge across the Weaver Boulevard wetlands area, which treats rainwater runoff from 33 acres of the campus.

Landscape director Melissa Acker has received grants from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to construct such wetlands and retention ponds as part of an overall flood control and stormwater management system. Acker’s team landscapes with native plants and removes exotic invasive plants, with a goal of restoring fertility so native species, which require no irrigation, can flourish. The grounds crew often gets assistance from student researchers who help track the invasives with geographic information systems (GIS), conduct land use analysis and manage a tree inventory. And with the university’s interest in reintroducing a hybrid of the American chestnut on campus, Acker is keeping an eye on current research and planning.

“If we’re truly going to have long-term sustainability, it has to be people changing the way they think, not just what they buy or do.”

“Our goal is to make the entire campus a laboratory to demonstrate sound landscape practices and to educate our students and the public about the amazing environment and natural history this region has to offer,” Acker said.

Baxley believes a sustainable campus is one that re-evaluates, asks questions and adjusts its culture. “If we’re truly going to have long-term sustainability, it has to be people changing the way they think, not just what they buy or do. We talk about sustainability features for a renovation or construction project, for example, but what we really mean is we’re promoting a sustainable way of doing our business.”

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