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Thursday, May 6, 2010 03:54 am

Building a sustainable school

Lake Land College reduces carbon footprint

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The "Lightning Bug" is a 1972 Volkswagen super beetle that Lake Land students and teachers converted from gas to electric. The car, which now runs on an electric motor, is one of the alternative energy teaching tools used as part of the college's campus-w

Lake Land College in Mattoon has reduced its energy costs by nearly $100,000 annually, as part of a campus-wide sustainability initiative.

The 308-acre campus has experienced a 100 percent reduction in natural gas use and a 30 percent reduction in electricity use in two of its recently renovated buildings. Using energy-efficient lighting, daylight-harvesting, solar energy and a geothermal system, which heats and cools using the earth’s natural energy, the community college was able to cut electrical costs and gas costs and minimize its carbon footprint.

The college is seeking green solutions in a number of ways. Recent projects include the renovations of two of the nine campus buildings, as well as a 51,000-square-foot addition to an existing structure. Lake Land is also planning to install wind and solar systems, as well as LED lighting and energy-efficient computer technology.

Lake Land president Scott Lensink says he’s impressed with the savings the college has seen so far.

“We’re looking at some solid data that’s coming off these particular projects, and it’s really impressing us,” Lensink says. “One of the things we’re looking at is a holistic aspect of sustainability. How can we move forward with not only geothermal, but also with wind, with high-efficiency lighting, with solar?”

Originally, the college was looking at a wind farm as its main source of energy. However, they decided on a system that would combine geothermal with solar, wind and other renewable technologies, says Raymond Rieck, the college’s vice president for business services. Lake Land’s location could generate some wind power, but not enough to be the only source of energy.

The campus is located over an aquifer, an underground layer of water-bearing rock, which makes it ideal for the water-based geothermal system. Lake Land does plan to ultimately install four wind turbines, and is currently hearing proposals from two wind energy companies.

Lake Land renovated its field house in 2008. The building used to run on a traditional boiler system, which Rieck says was old and inefficient. The field house now uses a solar water heater that produces up to 150 gallons of hot water per hour, which is more than enough for the building’s locker rooms during athletic events. The field house uses about 44 percent less energy than before renovations, saving the college about $32,000 a year.

Lake Land also renovated the Northwest Building, a 35,000-square-foot structure containing classrooms for English, science and dental hygiene. The switch to geothermal energy for heating means the building will use only one percent natural gas, for Bunsen burners in science labs. Project energy savings are about $48,000 per year.

The college used energy efficient lighting, daylight harvesting skylights and automatic turn-off systems to save an estimated $50,000 in energy costs for the West Building, which received a 51,000-square-foot addition last fall.

“Our long-term goal in the next five to 10 years is to get to a point where we’re off the electrical grid for a substantial portion of the day,” Lensink says.

He estimates that the college could be “off the grid” for as long as 16 hours.

Besides saving money, decreasing Lake Land’s carbon footprint is another benefit of the eco-friendly renovations, Lensink says.

As the campus moves forward with its sustainability goals, Lensink estimates they could get their carbon footprint below 1,000 tons of CO2 per year.

A long-term decrease in energy costs could benefit students, Lensink says. Current estimates show the school could bring down tuition by as much as $10 per credit hour.

“We’re looking at how we can become green, and how we can reduce costs to make education more affordable,” he says.

Contact Diane Ivey at divey@illinoistimes.com.

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