U.Va. Community Briefed on Greener Grounds

June 22, 2007 -- Energy savings, recycling and green building practices were highlighted as accomplishments of the University and elements of its short- and long-range planning at a community briefing on Thursday.

About 250 local residents and University employees attended the briefing, called “A Greener Grounds,” held at Newcomb Hall. They heard presentations from Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leonard W. Sandridge, Director of Parking and Transportation Rebecca White, Architect for the University David J. Neuman and Chief Facilities Officer Donald E. Sundgren.

“This is not a project, it is part of the culture,” Sandridge said of the University’s commitment to sustainable practices. “It is part of every task of every employee, because it is the right thing to do, for the country and for the University.”

Sandridge praised the “groundswell of support” for environmental measures over the past three years.. He cited a sustainability assessment of the University’s environmental management, environmental practices being taught and environmental research. He encouraged his audience to read the assessment.

Sandridge also praised the Board of Visitors for its “bold action” on sustainability, adopting the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines for new construction and renovations, despite an approximate 3 percent increase in construction costs. He also cited the University’s leadership in water and energy conservation and recycling.

“We care about doing it right,” Sandridge said.

Neuman, in his presentation, stressed planning and designing for sustainability, including new buildings, such as the proposed Emily C. Couric  Clinical Cancer Center and the South Lawn project, as well as Grounds design to accommodate transportation alternatives and interaction with the surrounding bio-habitat and municipalities.

“We have been cooperating with city (of Charlottesville) and (Albemarle) county staff because there are no artificial boundaries on sustainability,” he said. “This is all our business.”

The University and the community intersect most on transportation. Neuman got a smattering of applause when he suggested the current city streets could accommodate more bicycle lanes if the road lines were painted differently. He also described railroad tracks running through the community as an “asset that can be used to solve congestion.” Neuman predicted that automobiles would get smaller and that the University would reassess the use of its parking structures and how many were needed.

Neuman also cited the University’s concern with the Meadow Creek and Moore’s Creek watershed and an integrated storm water management plan that established holding ponds for runoff.

The University has received many awards for recycling, and Neuman said it is also recycling some of its buildings, such as Cocke and Fayerweather halls, both of which have recently undergone extensive renovations, and Varsity Hall, which was relocated from its original site and will now be used for offices. He said this re-uses tons of building materials.

“Fayerweather Hall is on its fourth life cycle now,” he said. The building was initially a gymnasium, then housed the school of architecture, followed by studio art and art history. The renovated building now houses art history.

The University has been working on sustainable design for about two years and many of its current building projects rate a silver level on the LEED scale and some are gold level. Silver and gold are the highest levels under LEED’s four-tier system.

White outlined long- and short-range transportation planning, including Transportation Demand Management, which she described as “the art of influencing travel behavior away from single-occupant vehicles.”

To do this, the University has to work with regional transportation authorities on sustainable alternatives, she said. Currently, University employees and students can ride city buses for free by displaying a University identification. She said the average number of bus riders doubled in October when there was a spike in gasoline prices. There are also steps the University itself can take, such as preferential parking for carpools and commuter vans, and varying work schedules.
A comprehensive transportation plan has to have concrete options, take into account the different user groups, provide alternate modes of transportation and be modified periodically. A Transportation Demand manager should be on board by July to work with this, she said.

White also noted her department has reduced its vehicle emissions by switching to a 20 percent bio-diesel mixture, and it has also reduced its water usage.

Sundgren noted the strides the University has taken in energy reduction, comparing electric usage at U.Va., which increased by about 4 percent a year through the 1980s. It plateaued in the 1990s through conservation efforts. And has held steady, while additional users have been added to the grid. He said the difference between the projected use and the actual use saved the University about $5 million, and prevented about 70,000 tons of carbon emissions, 147 tons of nitrous oxide emissions and 332 tons of sulfur dioxide from being emitted into the environment.

He said water use at the University peaked in 1999, at 23,000 gallons per person, and by 2006 it had been reduced to about 13,000 gallons per person. At the same time the University is recycling about 41 percent of its waste stream, well above the state mandate of 25 percent for state agencies.

For more information, visit www.virginia.edu/sustainability/.