Green initiatives educate, save energy at community colleges
At local colleges, sustainability initiatives save energy, educate students and seek to bring the community together.
From finding new ways to reuse material like plexiglass to making buildings more efficient, schools like Harper College and the College of Lake County are going green to prepare their students and communities for the future.
"Students will be more successful if they are able to look at complex problems like climate change and see solutions that are in the works around them while they're getting their education and thinking about the future," said David Husemoller, the sustainability manager at the College of Lake County. "It really helps them to be ready for life in a world where there's going to be change."
Husemoller said that change can be unsettling, and that's why he considers showcasing practical, innovative solutions to the vast climate issue to be so important.
The college is looking forward to opening the doors of its most recent project, a new student center in Waukegan, next month. The six-story building sits on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and will include a tutoring space, a library, a community center and more.
The building is designed to meet the highest green building standard -- LEED Platinum -- designated by the U.S. Green Building Center.
Its windows are made from fritted glass, designed to create more visibility for migratory birds who may otherwise fly into the windows. Each year, nearly a billion birds crash into glass in the U.S., according to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
On its west side, the center's windows have electrochromic glass, otherwise known as smart glass, that can be manually darkened on hot, sunny days. The feature will help the building keep cool and use its air conditioning -- also designed to be more efficient -- less often.
The air conditioning is a chilled beam system, which circulates air through coils in the ceiling. The coils are chilled using cold water, and the entire system is powered by electricity.
Some of that electricity will come from the 141 solar panels on the roof that together will produce 57.8 kilowatts.
For each of these green features, the building will display a sign for the public to stop and learn a little bit about them.
"We're not just saving taxpayer money, or the college money, or just feeling good about being green. We're teaching people what can be done, what innovation and new technologies are out there to do simple things that can have a big impact," Husemoller said.
For students in the college's technician training program, the building also represents a laboratory full of new technology.
"Our students will have exposure to something new and innovative like this, and they will be able to appreciate not only how it works, but how to fix it and how it can make a difference with reducing energy costs and pollution," Husemoller said. "(Sustainability) really connects with our core mission of advancing student success."
The center will host a grand opening for the public from 1 to -6 p.m. Jan. 13 at 34 N. Sheridan Road in Waukegan.
Meanwhile at Harper College in Palatine, the Makerspace and Entrepreneur Center is finding ways to reduce waste by reusing old materials like plexiglass and 3D printing byproducts.
The center is an innovation hub, open for memberships to both students and community members. Founded by manager Jeffrey Moy in 2018, it operates as a business incubator as well as a lab, and the center also offers classes and summer camp programs.
Moy said he spent most of his career in technology. Now that he's retired, he wants to focus on finding ways to make the world a better place.
"I spent most of my career enriching the lives and the pocketbooks of shareholders, and I didn't have any time to give back to the community," he said. "After I retired, now I have a platform and a way to make a difference in the world. I'm paying my dues now."
Moy began working to reuse plexiglass -- produced so widely for COVID-19 barriers -- after realizing the world would soon be awash with it and all that material is likely destined for landfills.
At the Makerspace, plexiglass can be turned into items for social causes, youth programs and educational purposes, such as storage, teaching aids and keychains. The latest example is ornaments created for the college's Educational Foundation to give donors.
Moy also takes waste from the 3D printers at libraries and schools and recycles it into new 3D printable material. The center uses the recycled material for student projects or for its annual 3D printed Toys for Tots program.
Anyone interested in donating plexiglass or 3D printer waste, learning more about the center or participating in the Toys for Tots program can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jenny Whidden is a Report For America corps member covering climate change and the environment for the Daily Herald. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see dailyherald.com/rfa.