Highlands going green

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University reducing energy use

By Jen Treacy
For the Optic

Cisterns have been installed throughout the New Mexico Highlands University campus, giving the school the ability to capture hundreds of thousands of gallons of rain water for watering.

Hybrids have been introduced into the fleet of vehicles used by the university’s security department, reducing the amount of gas they use.

And buildings throughout the campus are being constructed and renovated in ways that cut down on the energy needed to maintain them.

It’s all part of a concerted effort by the university over the last several years to reduce the impact that Highlands is having on the environment. And it’s paying off in other ways.

With the construction of the New Residence Hall in 2009, the total square footage of the university increased by 98,634. During the same period, Highlands has decreased gas consumption by 18 percent and water consumption by 19 percent, which translates into lower utilities bills. Electric consumption increased by only 4 percent.

The university’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In October, the Highlands Natatorium received the LEED Gold certification, making it the second LEED Gold and the third LEED certified building on campus. The Natatorium houses the university swimming pool.  

Awards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, abbreviated LEED, are granted based on specifications set by the U.S. Green Building Council.  Categories include water efficiency, materials, sustainable sites, indoor environmental quality, and energy usage.  

It promotes responsible low-impact development and environmental stewardship, and many buildings designed to these standards can reduce energy costs and usage.  

Renovations made to the Natatorium include garage doors on the side of the building that allow staff to regulate the amount of sunlight that comes into the building and a PoolPak unit to reduce energy used by the heating and cooling systems. The water from the pool is also used to heat the building.

Other campus buildings to be recognized are the New Residence Hall, which received the LEED Silver in 2010 and the Felix Martinez building, which received the LEED Gold in 2011.

The Lora Shields science building has also been renovated, and the Student Union Center is being built with the LEED specifications in mind. Jorden Grimm, the university’s capital projects and operations manager, expects that the buildings will receive at least a LEED Silver certification.

Grimm, who started working at Highlands in 2007, and Sylvia Baca, the university’s interim facilities director, have been among the university officials working on Highlands’ green initiatives. They were charged with using $80 million of accumulated state monies for capital projects, including renovations.

They championed pursuing LEED certification and decreasing the impact Highlands has on the environment while making the campus more aesthetically appealing.

Grimm said environmentally conscious renovations were “previously thought of as a waste of money, but now being green is sexy and everyone wants to do it.”  

Because of his designs there are cisterns all over the campus that can hold a combined 340,000 gallons of collected rain water. He has also been involved in creating a sustainable recycling center with a baling machine, the only one in northern New Mexico to accept glass and plastics No. 1-9.  

The new student center will be heated geothermically.  

Xeriscaping is also an important part of beautifying the campus. Drought-tolerant plants from Santa Fe that do well in higher altitudes replace the Astroturf as it must come up.

Buffalo grass was planted in Melody Park, and Russian Sage is also around the campus.  

Other green projects in which Grimm has been involved include replacing the boiler system with stand-alone boilers for each building, introducing hybrids into the fleet of campus security cars, and saving energy in buildings by installing lights that turn off automatically, toilets that use less water, and roofs that are white, so they reflect heat away instead of absorbing it.