Westminster College’s recently-announced addition to the Jewett Center for the Performing Arts could seriously increase overall energy use and costs on campus.
Educational institutions in the United States spend almost $14 billion annually in energy costs, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Energy. As enrollment declines and tuition raises, many colleges and universities across the nation hope improving energy efficiency on their campuses will both reduce operating costs and demonstrate environmental stewardship.
“Most colleges and universities are struggling with even keeping their emissions flat on growing campuses,” said Kerry Case, director of Westminster’s Environmental Center. “Every time you add a new building, residence hall, more students, anything like that, there’s a climate impact.”
In recent years, Westminster has worked to establish itself as a leading environmentally-conscious campus. Former President Michael Bassis signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2007, pledging to neutralize campus greenhouse gas emissions and promote research on climate change.
The college spent $1,318,195 on energy costs in the last fiscal year (July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017), Case said — and it’s likely this figure will increase with the expansion of campus facilities.
The planned Jewett expansion will be three stories and include a 100-seat music hall for performances, as well as an art gallery and reception spaces for art exhibits. The $13 million building will also include a practice hall for music ensembles and student-directed plays, as well as 18 music practice rooms. Construction is expected to start sometime this year.
The Environmental Center has been collaborating with Westminster’s Quantitative Analysis Research Cooperative (QUARC) to analyze the environmental and financial impacts of the Jewett expansion.
“Originally it was like, ‘What if we can just harness the power of statistics to say something important about energy use on campus?’”
–Sean Raleigh, associate professor of mathematics and one of three co-directors for QUARC
Westminster faculty and staff formed QUARC in Fall 2013, and the group has lent its services to a variety of interdisciplinary projects since then, including work on and off with the Environmental Center for several years.
The latest collaboration between the two will map the energy intensity (a measure of a building’s combined electrical and natural gas use compared to its square footage) of the buildings on campus, starting with Jewett.
Case said the group decided to analyze energy use because the financial cost associated with energy means the group could study environmental and financial impacts in tandem.
“I am also interested in this because when we’re building new additions, those can be really efficient or not really efficient,” Case said. “There’s building code and there’s a lot better than building code.”
Garret Wilcox, the lead consultant on the project, said another reason the group chose to study Jewett is because the building has “clean data.” In other words, Jewett has its own energy meter, so the data isn’t contaminated by other facilities on campus.
Compared to campus as a whole, Jewett’s electricity use — in kilowatt hours per square foot (kWh/sqft) — is noticeably higher. But on the flipside, its use of natural gas — in Dekatherms per square foot — is lower than the campus average.
Wilcox, a senior aviation flight operations major with geology and aviation management minors, has worked as a QUARC consultant since Fall 2015. He said he chose to work on the energy intensity project because it was a way to use his data analysis skills to benefit the Westminster community.
“I think [environmental stewardship] is something that’s important to image of Westminster’s campus more so than other colleges,” Wilcox said. “To see the ways that they are and are not living up to that potential is somewhat dismaying.”
The Environmental Center and QUARC plan to present their findings to Westminster’s Sustainability Council in April. But Case said she’s concerned the expansion project might be too far along for their findings to have an impact.
However, Jeff Driggs, the director of foundation relations, said the college is still in the beginning stages of the Jewett expansion project. He said no one from Westminster has met with the architects in over a year because the college is waiting on responses for several funding proposals — each worth millions of dollars — before moving forward.
Driggs also said environmental sustainability has always been part of the development conversation.
“When we got to that level of detail, we were always saying we want it to be a sustainable building and work for some level of LEED’s (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.” –Jeff Driggs, the director of foundation relations
Richard Brockmyer, managing director of plant facilities, oversees the buildings on campus and said Westminster has been committed to building environmentally sustainable facilities since the completion of the Meldrum Science Center.
Both Driggs and Brockmyer said the college would welcome input from the Sustainability Council on the Jewett expansion.
“[Westminster] is more than open to discussing,” Driggs said. “That is the commitment of the college: our buildings, new buildings that are built, will be sustainable.”