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by Garry Boulard


Contending with reduced state support during a time of significant enrollment growth, Bowie State University in Maryland has again seen its deferred-maintenance budget take a considerable hit — which includes money for many energy-efficiency projects.

 

“Our goal was $2.2 million,” says Bowie State President Mickey Burnim of a University System of Maryland Board of Regents policy directing all state schools to allocate 2 percent of their operating budgets to deferred-maintenance projects. The school budgeted only $750,000 for fiscal year 2010.

 

The drop in deferred-maintenance money has forced Bowie to prioritize its maintenance needs, putting off, in the process, some long-awaited campus renovation, building, and energy-efficiency projects altogether for the foreseeable future.

 

But the school’s budget challenges have not reduced its commitment to energy efficiency. Bowie State has conducted a yearly Carbon Footprint Inventory to measure the amount of carbon emissions produced throughout the campus. It also signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which mandates that all future campus construction be built to at least the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver standard.

 

“We are looking at new ideas all the time to make our campus greener,” Burnim says, “and that includes such things as installing more energy-efficient lighting in our buildings. Top priorities for us today would be anything having to do with life, health or safety issues, which also means keeping our air conditioning system functioning and doing things like installing lights on a dark parking lot that students are afraid to use at night.”

 

Addressing ongoing and costly deferred-maintenance needs is a challenge for any two- or four-year school. During an economically challenging time, many HBCUs have put energy efficiency and other green projects on the back burner. However, some are finding that deferred maintenance does not have to be a barrier to becoming green.

 

Investing in a Better Tomorrow

 

“Very often HBCUs and other schools, too, think that taking on energy efficiency, whether it’s in a new or existing building, is just going to be too expensive,” says Karen Henley-Raymond, a solution development leader with Johnson Controls Inc., a national leader in promoting and providing energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings.

 

“Many people get hung up on the costs at the front end if they are thinking about building with energy efficiency in mind. But most buildings are going to be in operation for 50 or 100 years, and, when you look at the savings over time, it makes more sense to think about how to make a building as energy-efficient as possible at the time of its construction,” Henley-Raymond adds.

 

And as a deferred-maintenance item, energy efficiency can mean “changing light fixtures and light bulbs or getting rid of an old boiler that is an energy hog and replacing it with one that is efficient,” Henley-Raymond says.

 

Henley-Raymond acknowledges that, because energy-efficiency principles, both in new construction as well as existing buildings, have only been embraced by HBCUs in recent years, those up-front costs remain a prohibitive factor.

 

“Many of these schools already have extremely tight budgets, so the idea of doing anything that is going to increase the cost of a project at the outset is a problem,” Henley-Raymond says. “This is particularly true when a school is thinking about doing anything that might lead to LEED certification — what you have to do to get a building certified, the requirements, are very strict. And that has tended to discourage some schools.”

 

“But there still are quite a few energy-efficient upgrades that schools can do that won’t necessarily net a LEED certification but will have an overall positive benefit to the campus anyway,” she says.

 

At Grambling State University in Grambling, La., school officials have been trying to upgrade lighting and install low-consumption toilets across the campus. Its approach, similar to the strategies of other resource-challenged schools, has been to tackle these projects piecemeal and when necessary.

 

“When we have the money to do it, we do it,” says Grambling State facilities director Raymond Dudley, who adds that the school also has its own in-house water system. “We are always trying to come up with ways to reduce water consumption, such as installing more energy-efficient laundry equipment.”

 

The push to increase energy efficiency at Grambling State also means upgrading its  heating and cooling system as well as light sensors in the school’s new performing arts center. But such moves come during a time when the state has reduced the school’s budget by some $2.8 million.

 

“Basically just about every aspect of our infrastructure here has been neglected,” says Daarel Burnette, vice president for finance and admission at Grambling State, “and that means everything from the sidewalks, which in places are falling apart, to water intrusion in the library basement and sink holes on the campus.”

 

Many Grambling State students also have endured summer classes without air conditioning because part of the school’s HVAC system was malfunctioning.

 

“The temperatures were in the upper 90s when that happened,” Burnette says. “We had to go out and buy window units to keep the building cool.”

 

In a move that is all too familiar at many cash-strapped HBCUs, Grambling had to pay for those units out of its operating budget.

 

“To do it any other way, such as trying to get the money from the state, would have taken too long,” Burnette says, “and we needed to get some sort of air conditioning up and running as soon as possible.”

 

“Obviously we have a lot of issues here. But if we can increase our energy efficiency, whether in new construction or deferred-maintenance projects, we will. It is all just a matter of having the money.”

 

Being Strategic

 

At Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., President Trudie Kibbe Reed has approached deferred-maintenance and energy-efficiency issues by trying to raise more money for the school, cutting costs, and implementing a campuswide plan for energy and resource conservation.

 

“I have decreased a lot of unnecessary spending here,” says Reed, who rejected a proposal to install a $60,000 chandelier for a ballroom in the school’s renovated and expanded Center for Civic Engagement building because, she says, “that figure easily represented six scholarships.”

 

Instead, Reed met with a vendor and purchased a series of different-sized lights for the same space for $6,000.         

 

Reed has applied that same frugality to deferred-maintenance projects at Bethune-Cookman, noting in particular the hidden costs of renovating older campus structures.

 

“There are always surprises with any renovation, and some are costly, so you have to approach any project like that very carefully and with great attention to detail,” she says.

 

Despite such challenges, Reed has overseen the successful renovation of Mary McLeod Bethune’s house. She is now trying to find money for a similar renovation of the Curtis Hall dorm.

 

“We put a lot of money every year into deferred maintenance as well as renovations,” Reed says. She considers such efforts “an important part of our overall strategic plan.”

 

Energy efficiency comes in upgrading lighting and heating and cooling systems, which Reed says will be one of the most important features of  Bethune-Cookman’s new school of nursing. The school will include a 300-seat lecture hall, wellness center and smart classrooms designed to enhance computer use while also reducing energy consumption in an existing building that is being renovated.

 

With an endowment that had nearly doubled in size before the 2008 recession, the private institution also relies on private giving, particularly from alumni, for building and deferred-maintenance projects.

 

But winning alumni support, says Burnim of Bowie State, many times depends on the nature of the project.

 

“Some things are just more appealing to donors than others,” he says. “When you are putting up a new roof on a building, you can’t name the roof after the donor. So it’s harder to get support for such things.”

 

Confronting the prospect of continued budget challenges for at least the foreseeable future, many HBCUs might have to delay maintenance projects including enhancing energy efficiency. But for projects they do take on, energy efficiency is at the forefront, even if the projects are not fully green.

 

“We are not seeking LEED certification, for example, with our new Fine and Performing Arts Center due to the prohibitive costs,” says Burnim, who signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment after the fine arts building had already been planned. “But we are using green ideas in that building, such as putting in energy-efficient lighting, and are trying to do the same things throughout the campus.”  

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