Facilities Operations Continues to Launch Sustainable Initiatives

Electrician Brian DeKonnick installs energy-saving LED lights on the quad.
Electrician Brian DeKonnick installs energy-saving LED lights on the quad.

July 10, 2013

As Albion College prepares for its 2013-2014 Year of Sustainability, the Facilities Operations division continues to launch initiatives to make the campus as green as possible.

Sustainability kicked off the first of Albion’s three theme years in the fall of 2010. After College-wide celebrations of wellness and global diversity the past two years, the campus community looks forward to renewing the focus on sustainability during the upcoming academic year.

Under the leadership of Director of Grounds Mark Frever, the division is using propane technology to reduce emissions released by the fleet of mowers, liquid fertilizer for more precise application, and adding fruit-bearing plants at various locations around campus.

Two of Albion’s six mowers have made the transition to propane fuel, which cuts greenhouse gases, reduces emissions, and uses domestically produced fuel. Frever added the fuel helps the engines run longer and the exposure to operators is reduced because the fuel system is a closed-loop system.

“The engine hardly burns any oil and it runs real clean,” Frever said. “We’re expecting the longevity of the engine to increase. I’m hoping to get ten years [out of mowers powered by propane] as opposed to three to five years with diesel.”

Going natural in fertilizer and plant care

Despite its best efforts to be careful when applying granular fertilizer in the past, Frever said there was no way to keep some it from landing on sidewalks, curbs and other hard surfaces.

“We make every effort to blow the fertilizer off the hard surface before it goes down the storm drain,” Frever said. “By switching to a liquid fertility program, the spray rig focuses the nutrients where we need it and it allows us the flexibility to mix in products that are on the horizon for natural pest control.

“In addition to the benefit of not physically applying fertilizer on concrete or asphalt, the product I’ve chosen has a low salt index,” he added. “Which is important because we overload the landscape with salt from using de-icing products for snow and ice removal.”

For lawn areas that are not irrigated, the grounds crew has overseeded with 3,200 pounds of turf-type tall fescue. Historically used for roadsides and pastures, the new fescue varieties have improved wear resistance and drought tolerance while requiring less maintenance and providing a soft and inviting lawn.

Looking for ground cover

Grounds crew worker Bob Watson thought strawberry plants would make for a nice ground cover on the west end of the facilities building located near the entrance to the Erie Street parking lot used by many faculty and staff members who work in the buildings on the quad. The plants are nearly a year old and passersby regularly stop to enjoy a piece of fruit.

“The strawberry plants make people pause for a moment and they usually get picked over,” Frever said.

The strawberry plants follow paw paw trees which were planted behind Olin Hall at least 12 years ago. The trees bear a fruit with a strong banana flavor that used to be a staple of the Native American diet. Hybrid columnar apple trees are in their second year outside of the Bobbitt Visual Arts Center. While the trees produced flowers but not fruit last year, perfect conditions this spring should allow each of the eight trees to yield a dozen apples later in the summer.

Saving electricity with LED lights

Facilities is also installing efficient LED up-lights to replace current building lights around campus, saving energy and money.

“These are low-wattage LED lights that are replacing 400-watt, high-intensity discharge (HID) fixtures,” said Brian DeKoninck, electrician for the department. “The energy saved is close to 75% in this application.”

Among the lights being replaced are the up-lights that illuminate the Goodrich Chapel tower. While energy and cost savings are important, DeKoninck says, security and light coverage is just as critical. The lights will work efficiently, and light enough of the campus to keep students and buildings safe.

“The new LEDs will consume roughly one-third of the energy of the existing lamps with a much closer to real sunlight color spectrum,” said Bill McCoy, director of maintenance and energy management. “The few lights that we are replacing now will save us about $2,671.48 per year. We expect the lights to pay for themselves in a couple of years.”

Over time, the goal is to replace all of the up-lights, as well as wall packs, with LEDs, McCoy said.

“Over the last several years we have implemented many conservation measures throughout campus to reduce our energy consumption, as well as reduce our carbon footprint,” McCoy said. “We are aggressively pursuing energy conservation campus-wide.”