'Cash-Poor, Bond-Rich'

Photo: Courtesy of FTR International Inc. -- Photo by Greg Epstein

LA Valley College's Allied Health and Sciences Center.

June 18, 2009
Photo: Courtesy of FTR International Inc. -- Photo by Greg Epstein

LA Valley College's Allied Health and Sciences Center.

LOS ANGELES – California's community colleges are reeling in response to projected state budget cuts, and the nine institutions comprising the Los Angeles Community College District are no exception. The district's Board of Trustees, anticipating a budget reduction in the range of $60 to $80 million, recently took the unprecedented step of canceling all summer session classes beginning on or after July 1, eliminating more than 1,600 classes and affecting as many as 40,000 students district-wide, officials estimate.

Amid this doom and gloom is a seeming incongruity – the LA Community College District is in the midst of a $5.7 billion building boom -- a green building boom, financed by voter-approved bonds. With the passage of Propositions A and AA in 2001 and 2003, voters approved a $2.2 billion funding stream -- and, just last November, added another $3.5 billion to the pot with the passage of Measure J. “Cash-poor, bond-rich” is a common phrase on campus, says Jennifer C. Fong, the public relations manager at Los Angeles Valley College.

Valley’s share of those riches is roughly $600 million and, indeed, to walk its campus is to walk a campus in transition.

Photo: LA Community College District

Photovoltaic panels on the roof of LA Valley College's maintenance and operation building.

Within five years, virtually every building on the L-shaped campus will be new or newly renovated, says the president, A. Susan Carleo. Today, amid long, 1950s-era “barracks buildings,” as Carleo calls them, looms a gleaming new Allied Health and Sciences Center with photovoltaic panels on the rooftop. Energy vacuumed up by 7,952 solar tubes heats water used in the college’s newly upgraded central plant. Under construction are a new child development center and a student services building; construction of a new library is slated to start this summer.

A one-story maintenance and operations building, completed in 2006, betrays in its seeming modesty a notable distinction: The $6.6 million facility was the first building, district-wide, to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certification (and at the silver level, at that). The maintenance and ops building also has 15 kilowatt photovoltaic panels on the rooftop.

District-wide, the trustees in 2002 approved a policy requiring that all buildings funded 50 percent or more by bonds meet the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards. A separate board policy holds that 10 percent of the energy of all new construction projects, district-wide, be provided by renewable energy (mostly solar panels). Writing on the windows at the district's downtown quarters, on Wilshire Boulevard, reads, "Building a green tomorrow today."

“What we’ve been discovering over the intervening years is that in fact it’s not costing us any more at all to build green,” says Larry Eisenberg, executive director of facilities planning and development for the district. “The only extra element, if there is an extra element, is the cost of certification under USGBC. If we didn’t go for certification we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a LEED building and a non-LEED building in terms of costs, and the cost of certification is pretty nominal."

The scale of the green building initiative, district-wide, is grand, with about 90 LEED buildings planned. At this point, 37 buildings are either completed or under construction; two have LEED silver status, six are under review by the U.S. Green Building Council, and 29 are under construction but are expected to meet LEED standards. "We have a few of them, 10 of them, that are probably going to be finished at the [basic LEED]-certified level, but many of the remainder will be [LEED] silver and many of them gold,” Eisenberg says.

Photo: Los Angeles Valley College

Solar tubes on the gym roof.

At Valley, “Our minimum goal for the college is silver,” says Jim Rogers, the project manager for the campus. Based on its current building plans, the college projects a 65 to 70 percent savings in its energy use by the time construction is complete. The ultimate goal, Rogers says, is net zero energy usage, although, he acknowledges it's a "very aggressive" target. "We're looking for ways to reach that other 30 percent."

Valley College has also looked for water savings. As of January, the college completed the installation of 99 waterless urinals, for an estimated water savings of 40,000 gallons per urinal, per year.

"We are setting up our plant to be a laboratory," says President Carleo. A proposed associate degree in environmental sciences is pending approval and, even amid the state budget crisis, Don Gauthier, an assistant professor of geography, plans to teach a new Introduction to Sustainability class this fall.

“As we continue to develop the curriculum, we will already have a laboratory in place," Carleo says.


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