Interview in Hills North

March 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm (Uncategorized)

I just had my first interview for my final paper with Josh Stoffel, who is the Sustainability Coordinator at UMass Amherst.   My final paper idea is to focus on the worst problem areas on campus in terms of using unnecessary energy, or in other words, the worst energy suckers at UMass.  I found out some interesting facts and many I was not expecting to hear about.  Rather than focusing on a specific building, we instead talked about problems with our buildings in general, and why it so hard to renovate them.  I got a great background and start for my paper, and I found out some things that I am going to research more on.   However, I was not surprised to hear that it is not just the old buildings that are causing problems, but it also the students, faculty and maintenance’s poor behaviors that are wasting energy.  According to Stoffel, there are “two sides to the coin.” 

I started out the interview by stating what my topic was for my paper, even though I was a little nervous that he was going to be put off from the idea.  To my surprise, he seemed happy that I chose sustainability as my topic, even though it was about emphasizing the flaws.  He began by stating the lab buildings are one of the worst problems because they are so heavily used throughout the day, and are very old.  Also the campus center and the library are on the list because the lights are always on.  This means that the buildings are wasting energy constantly, even when no one is there.  This is the same for the residence halls- the lobby and the bathroom lights are always on as well.   The Fine Arts Center needs to have them on too because there are virtually no windows, since it is practically all underground.  I was having practice in FAC one day when the lights went out for a few seconds; even though there was still light outside I couldn’t see a hand in front of my face.   Stoffel says that all of these lighting problems could easily be fixed with motion sensors.  He is very passionate about putting these in classrooms and dorms, and says that it is frustrating that something that has been around for years is not being put to use. 

But what seemed really funny to me is that his office is in Hills North, which he says is a terrible energy waster.  It is so bad that it is going to be knocked down in a couple of years.  He eagerly told me to look around his office and guess what is used to be.  I could almost right away tell that it used to be a dorm room, and the hallways reminded me of my halls in Van Meter.  He says that there are plaques in the lobby dated in the teens, which is his way of telling me that this building is way too old to be standing.   He says that the joke is that “the sustainability coordinator is in the worst building on campus.” 

 From here our conversation about buildings took a turn to the more technical side of things.  The reason why Hills North is being torn down is because it is much less expensive to knock it down than to renovate it.  That seems like the golden question for many of the old buildings on campus, like the university apartments that were torn down last year because they were in such horrible conditions.  There was no heat.   I told him that I had heard stories from my friends and from my band director about how bad and cold the apartments were, and he agreed.  In fact, over 60% of campus building needs have to do with ventilation.   I asked him what the next building to be knocked down is, and he told me there is actually a group of buildings being looked at, such as the South College.  The reason why they are being knocked down is mainly because of a technicality that prevents the green movement from renovating.  He gave me Hills North as an example.  Say they wanted to just replace the windows for sustainability reasons.  If they spend over a certain amount (he couldn’t think of the number), they would have to upgrade the entire building.  That would include things like handicap accessibility,  putting in elevators, and the heating system.  This is why one has to plan on spending 5 times more money when renovating; if one thing is going to be fixed, and goes over a certain expense, then all of it needs to be fixed.  UMass simply does not have enough funding to do it.   I’m not sure exactly what law makes this so, but he says that it all has to do with state certification and being up to par with campus state policy. I am going to look into this more later.

Now we talked about another major player in the energy sucking at campus; us and our poor behavioral choices.  Students living in dorms are constantly wasting energy by leaving their lights and TV’s on, taking long showers, and leaving the faucet on when brushing their teeth.   Stoffel says that it all comes down to the little things, and that students need to know that these “small things that they would do would make a difference.”  Therefore, some funding needs to be set aside for educating students to make the right decisions in order to help campus save energy.  However, it is not just the students that are causing problems.  He told me that he pulls his hair every morning when he comes into his office to find that every single light is on.  He says that he leaves his office fairly late, and sees that all of the office lights are off.  Then, when janitors come in to clean the rooms, they turn them in again and leave them on. 

In addition, we talked about two programs that may help reduce energy in building.  The first is called “shut the sash”, which involves the science labs.  This is a campaign at UMass to get labs to shut their fume hoods when not in use.   As of right now, they are being left open and are emitting a lot of energy.  Closing fume hoods would recycle chemicals rather than having them become energy wasters.  The second program is called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED.  This is a green building certification system that provides verification that a building was designed to improving green performance.  A building gets a certain amount of points for things like energy savings, emissions reduction and water efficiency.  It then gets awarded a bronze, silver, gold, etc.  From now on, all buildings at UMass must be a silver or higher.  The first building to have this certification will be the new police station.  I asked him what he thought Hills North would be rated if on this program, and he laughed and said it would be on the negative scale.  “This wasn’t meant to be an office building.”


1 Comment

  1. David Perkins said,

    Great work, Angela! This is a promising final issue-feature!

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