Making campus a more energy friendly environment

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Director of the Physical Plant Services Byron Patterson and Manager of Grounds, Landscape and Recycling Carlos Doolittle 
discuss energy conservation solutions for campus through the Sustainability Center. The center’s goal is to educate the campus and local community about promoting sustainability within their day-to-day activities. Larshell Green/The Lion’s Roar

Director of the Physical Plant Services Byron Patterson and Manager of Grounds, Landscape and Recycling Carlos Doolittle have turned their career at the university’s Sustainability Center into an opportunity to educate visitors, businesses, students and more on energy conservation.

Patterson explained that the new housing complex that is being built to the east side of Zachary Taylor Hall will include 560 beds, and wells that are drilled down 300 feet below the complex in order to displace heat underground and operate the two new buildings off of one third of energy.

While this energy-saving plan was in the works of being implemented, Patterson faced some criticism.

“I was told that this system won’t work here,” said Patterson. “We have the most incredible soil conditions for it. The gravel and water allows the heat to move.”

Patterson’s goal of sustainability was developed from an inspiration of saving money on campus in an innovative way. 

“We’re trying to reduce the cost of doing business to be responsible stewards of this university, so we created an incredible environment,” said Patterson. “This will be an incredible example of the first building in the state of Louisiana with a geothermal hybrid system. This can reduce our cost of operating. We can keep costs down, so students don’t feel a burden. This is a very exciting project that we’re working on now. In August of next year, it will be completely finished.”

Aside from large-scale projects, the Sustainability Center takes pride in creating a learning environment for members of the university and the local community. 

“It’s kind of a show and tell type of thing,” said Doolittle. “It’s not just words, text or paper on a screen. It’s the opportunity to see the components for enjoying the right experience.”

Patterson’s research of the way that humans process new information contributed to how instructional activities were developed at the Sustainability Center. 

“We found that 37 percent of all people are kinesthetic learners, which means they learn by touching, feeling and doing,” said Patterson. “One of the things that we want to do is bring in junior high and high school students to talk to them about the different disciplines you can be in. You can be an engineer. You can be an architect. You can do these different things. Sometimes they don’t know what they want to be. I always tell people that I’m 59 years old and I still don’t know what I want to be.”

Doolittle described the processes that recycled materials go through on campus.

“Our single stream recycling includes paper, plastics and metal cans,” said Doolittle. Those blue containers on campus and any of the recycling that we collect all gets compacted in this compacter and is hauled to the recycle center in Baton Rouge where it is sorted into the different types of commodities that they’re able to sell as raw materials to be recycled again. The cardboard, print cartridges and the wood pallets are what we sell. It’s not large amount of revenue, but it’s a little. A little counts, especially over recent years since we’ve been dealing with budget cuts.”

Patterson revealed that the Physical Plant operates on about 37 percent of the energy of a standard system. Several solar thermal projects are on campus including the pool in the Kinesiology and Health Sciences building, which is heated by solar thermal hot water.

“When we first brought it online, we saved right at about $40,000 a year with that system,” said Patterson. “We always do reuse, reduce and recycle.”

Several student groups and departments have relied on the Sustainability Center to learn more about their focus areas.

Patterson refers to the center as a “learning, living, laboratory.” According to Doolittle, Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. David Burley, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Technology Dr. Cris Koutsougeras and Associate Professor of Communication Dr. Amber Narro are among the professors whose students have learned from the Sustainability Center. Burley’s class has had students that have worked to create farm-to-table opportunities by way of a campus garden. 

“It ties into the real world ready value at the university,” said Doolittle. “Projects give them a real world problem and the potential to find clues that may give some real world applicable answers and solutions.”

Following Doolittle’s career as a horticulture student at the university, the program was eliminated from campus as a part of budget cuts. At that point, the Physical Plant was redirected for new projects to come into fruition and was renamed. 

For those interested in incorporating sustainability in their own homes, Doolittle and Patterson suggest insulating attics, walls and windows first and determining what part of the home is the desired heating or cooling area. 

“It’s like an igloo chest,” said Patterson. “If you flip it open, you’ve got an excellent place to store food, drinks, etc. If you leave the lid open, everything melts. If you close the lid, you’ve got a nice, sealed envelope that’s efficient.”

Future goals of the center include powering North Campus with waste products and making wood pellets that can be powered with biomass systems. Although one of the main goals of the center is energy conservation, Doolittle and Patterson’s passions lie in their ability to inspire the youth of the community.

“We want these youngsters to be here and to grow and develop and it is so exciting,” said Patterson. “I’ve actually had this happen. Whenever a young person comes back to me later on in life and they go, ‘You made a difference in my life’ it is so rewarding to me. I’ve had students that have come back and said, ‘I wouldn’t have finished this degree if not for you. As mentors, we really want to get all of the students the best education we can so that they can have the most successful career. We care about our kids, their parents and each other. We want to make this an incredible learning environment.”