Article - Office of College Advancement

Ohlone College Newark Center is the first college campus in the United States to achieve LEED platinum status

Friday, October 17, 2008—Reprinted from East Bay Business Times.

Gari Browning and Leta Stagnaro of Ohlone College. —Photo by Stephanie Secrest.

Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology in August became the first college campus in the United States to achieve LEED platinum status. Little has been ignored in terms of sustainability at the new campus, which opened in January. Solar panels – 1,585 of them – on the center’s rooftop generate up to 50 percent of the building’s energy needs, thus reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by more than 183 tons – equivalent to planting nearly 52 acres of trees.

A geothermal ground loop system and twin enthalpy wheel energy recovery systems contribute to energy conservation measures and energy cost savings. Motion sensor light switches are installed throughout the campus, and an abundance of natural light also helps conserve energy on a daily basis. Recycled denim jeans were used to insulate the Newark campus buildings. They eliminated asbestos and formaldehyde and hold more heat and absorb more sound. Bay-friendly landscaping principles were incorporated in the landscape design, and other water-saving operations include low-flow toilets and faucets, and waterless urinals.

Recycle areas and bins are strategically located on campus so students can dispose of aluminum cans, glass, paper and plastic. Several faculty members have gone paperless by using electronic sources to distribute their course syllabus and other materials. Scanning documents to an electronic file, rather than copying them, has become the norm for distribution and storage. Students who carpool can get a special permit and have access to parking close to the building, and those who drive a hybrid or other alternative-energy vehicle can purchase a parking pass at a reduced rate.

Leta Stagnaro, Ohlone college associate vice president, on making educational institutions more sustainable:

What does it mean for a college to be green or sustainable?

At Ohlone College sustainability starts by honoring our Ohlone Indian heritage by being responsible stewards of our land, conserving natural resources and avoiding negative long-term environmental effects. Ohlone College’s commitment to environmental stewardship is visible within the college’s core values, strategic goals and operational practices, which implement sustainability throughout the curriculum and promote a culture of diversity.

What is the single most important thing Ohlone has done to be more sustainable?

The single most important thing Ohlone College District has done to be more sustainable was to build the Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology to LEED Platinum standards, the highest level of certification for green buildings.

This accomplishment followed the approval of the Ohlone College Board of Trustees policy to adopt principles of sustainability, stating that the district is committed to:

  1. Conserving natural resources and avoiding negative long-term environmental effects.
  2. Maximizing environmental quality, use of renewable resources, energy efficiency and energy use.
  3. Facilitating use of alternate forms of transportation, fuels and systems.
  4. Designing all major new building and renovation projects to meet nationally recognized standards for environmental design.

What impact do you think the fact that you are a sustainable campus will have on the lives of your students?

The biggest impact will be increased perception and awareness of environmental issues such as consumption of natural resources, waste production and global warming. Students who enroll in courses at the Newark Center will have opportunities to gain valuable knowledge and skills that critically examine all sides of environmental issues and apply understanding of ecological principles to create informed opinions about how to live. In addition students who enroll in our Environmental Studies program can achieve certificates, degrees and transfer units that will enable them to seek employment in the green technology industry or continue their studies at one of our local four-year institutions. One such course is our newly created solar photovoltaic design and installation course. This three-unit course meets over a 10-week period. Solar firms in the Bay Area are expected to increase employment by up to 17 percent in the next few years, resulting in approximately 1,700 new jobs.

Where is the best place for a college to begin the path toward sustainability?

The first step is to create a shared vision of sustainability in policy and practice and then seek out successful models to learn from. Organizations such as the Association of the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, of which Ohlone is a member, provide valuable resources on topics such as strategic planning, funding mechanisms for sustainability, curriculum development, assessment tools and building a sustainable campus culture.

Looking at the big picture, what is the most important thing a college can do to make this a more sustainable society?

Demonstrate leadership in environmental stewardship and provide opportunities for students and local communities to learn about sustainability and environmental issues. Congress has passed the Higher Education Sustainability Act as part of the new Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. The act, expected to be signed into law soon by President Bush, creates a “university sustainability grants program” at the Department of Education. It will offer grants to institutions and associations of higher education to develop, implement and evaluate sustainability curricula, practices, and academic programs. This is the first new federal environmental education funding program in 18 years. The bill also directs the Department of Education to convene a national summit of higher education sustainability experts, federal agency staff members and business leaders to identify best practices and opportunities for collaborative sustainability.

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