Humboldt State reducing energy costs through improved building engineering

By Kevin Wyart
Flapjack Chronicle

Humboldt State is undergoing a continuous process of renovating or replacing its aging buildings with keeping improvements for students and reducing the school’s carbon footprint in mind. In the last four years the energy budget has dropped about 14 percent after the school had opened the Business and Social Sciences building, a new kinesiology and athletics Building, and a new residential housing complex attached to new soccer facilities. Like many departments on campus, athletics wanted to improve the aging facilities their students had been using. The old East Gym had been in use by the basketball and volleyball teams since 1957. Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations Dan Pambianco explained the need for a replacement of the East Gym.
“For a period of time, we were having winning basketball teams that consisted of kids that came from local high schools,” Pambianco said. “We often had to turn several people away from games because the gym was always filled to capacity and because of that, the temperature got very hot inside making it uncomfortable for many people.”
Last basketball season, the new KA Building used an average of 5,800 therms of natural gas per month with a therm being approximately equivalent to 100 cubic feet. Figures from previous years weren’t available. With the sellout crowds also came increased energy usage through keeping the building cool enough for people to tolerate. After a long process of securing approval and funding, designs of the new KA building were made with the intention of not only increasing seating capacity and comfort, but also of significantly reducing the carbon footprint. The building has met standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification. According to Humboldt State Chief Engineer Silas Biggins, the criteria for these standards are a matter of energy efficiency, sustainable designs, and sustainable materials.

“We have a lot of passive venting, efficient heating, and lighting controls,” Billings said, “so that reduces a lot of energy use in that building.”
Billings later added that even the old East Gym, still used by intramural sports and recreational groups, received improvements to make it greener.
“We did a $1.2 million project that was entirely focused on heating and ventilation. We upgraded the entire heating and ventilation system, installed all new fans, controllers, and heating boilers,” Billings explained.
Billings said the estimated energy reduction from the project would be about ten percent, but the exact numbers weren’t known. School-wide, the total amount of funds budgeted for energy for this fiscal year are about $2.4 million, a slight decrease from $2.8 million allocated in 2009-10 with the figures including both electricity and natural gas. That is a decrease of about 14 percent in outside consumption.  All buildings on campus, excluding the college creek complex, receive power from the same grid, so consumption by individual buildings isn’t tracked. There aren’t any individual meters installed for each and every building.  That is something Billings hopes to change as well.
“We hope to install meters for each building somewhere down the line,” Billings said. “It would allow us to monitor the energy usage of each department, so we can see who uses how much and find ways to reduce it.”
Beginning with the Behavioral and Social Sciences building, continuing with the KA Building and the College Creek Complex and going forward with other campus improvements, the university wants to make each facility as environmentally friendly as costs will allow. Campus Planner Mike Fischer indicated that except for the BSS Building, which is officially certified LEED Gold, all newer buildings will incorporate LEED standards going forward, but without applying for certification, which can cost many thousands of dollars.
“There is a memorandum from the Chancellor that our buildings be LEED equivalent and that is what we really live up to,” Fischer said. “We use those criteria to pick what we do for the cost we can achieve and incorporate it into the design. Our designs aren’t catered to be approved by an LEED board, but we choose those elements as part of the design because those are what’s looked upon as being sustainably progressive.”
All of this is part of HSU’s ongoing effort to reduce  energy consumption by 15 percent and to reach 1990 carbon output levels by the year 2020 in compliance with the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. With the new building standards being implemented, Fischer says it has reduced energy use both as a result of the design, and the change in culture that has gone along with these efforts to lessen consumption.
“It has been night and day with the efforts to go greener. In my ten years here at HSU, both as a student and as a graduate, I have seen a lot of progress being made, as well as a big change in attitude. The same is happening throughout the state of California,” Fisher said.
While these new standards have resulted in newer athletic and student facilities that offer more state-of-the-art experiences and comfort, they have also reduced the school’s carbon footprint, inspiring more parts of campus and the rest of the state to follow.

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