Kalamazoo College’s new fitness and wellness center will be green in large part because of the efforts of two student LEED-equivalent auditors. The collaborative solution (so like K!) carries a nice solar-panel side effect.

LEED-Like Leaders

When Kalamazoo College officials went searching for LEED certification for the Fitness and Wellness Center, they looked to the students who will use it.

Ogden Wright, Paul Manstrom and Michelle Sugimoto stand at the Fitness and Wellness Center construction site

Among those responsible for the very best sustainability measure of the new fitness center are LEED evaluators Ogden Wright, Paul Manstrom and Michelle Sugimoto.

After plans for the center were announced in 2014, the Kalamazoo College Climate Action Network, a student-organized group that advocates for sustainable and effective measures to address climate change, looked for ways to ensure the new construction was environmentally friendly. One idea was to have the addition LEED-certified.

K’s Sustainability Advisory Committee, which included faculty, staff and students, agreed, but suggested a modification of the idea. Rather than paying for LEED certification, then perhaps the College should instead hire two student LEED-equivalent auditors, training them in the design, energy and sustainability criteria that inform LEED. The College gave the green light to that idea and will divert the estimated $50,000 cost of formal certification to fund the student auditing project.

Junior Michelle Sugimoto and senior Ogden Wright were chosen from a dozen applicants. They have met with designers and builders every few weeks since late last summer. The actual cost of their training and stipends will be a fraction of the cost of LEED certification. The savings will be invested in a 12 kilowatt solar panel array installation on campus that will offset 5 percent of the new fitness center’s energy costs.

The new, $8.65 million center (29,000 square feet) will feature cardio and weight rooms, multi-purpose fitness areas and racquetball and squash courts. The scheduled opening is July 31.

Collaborating with the project’s design and construction teams, Sugimoto and Wright have been evaluating several factors to assess the LEED-like certification potential of the building. Among others, those factors include water and energy efficiency, proximity to public transportation and air quality.

Associate Vice President for Facilities Management Paul Manstrom, who is advising the students, says their work is another example of K’s commitment to provide students experiences with profoundly relevant real-world applications.

“It’s a case of the administration sharing a challenge with students and saying, ‘Join us,’” he says. “While we are using LEED standards to audit the construction of the building,” Manstrom adds, “there’s really no template for what we are calling a student-audited LEED simulation. We’re being creative and designing the process as we go through it.

“Buildings constitute a large part of the amount of waste produced in the United States each year. Putting the money up front saves the College money in the long run, while at the same time giving these students an incredible learning experience.”

The U.S. Green Buildings Council sets the standards for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Building projects earn points from certifiers based on the type and degree of sustainable practices integrated into a structure, from LED lights to insulation to the use of alternative forms of energy, and many others.

LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient, use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Around 1.85 million square feet are being certified daily, according to the Council. Two other buildings on K’s campus are LEED certified: the Hicks Student Center, with a Silver designation, and the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, which is expected to reach Gold-level certification soon.

“It’s one thing to complain about climate change, it’s another thing to try to change it,” says Wright, a native of Kingston, Jamaica. He participates in K’s 3/2 Engineering Program, a dual degree program where three years of core classes are taken at the College before a student transfers to an accredited engineering school for higher level courses. He currently studies Civil Engineering at Western Michigan University.

Having worked in Facilities Management last summer, Wright applied for the auditor position “because I wasn’t ready to throw away my ties to K,” he says. “It keeps me around here, keeps me grounded in the College, and we’re providing a service for K.”

In return, the students gain vital experience.  LEED is the new trend in building, and helps us understand how we are going to treat our environment, planet and people around us,” says Wright. He and Sugimoto are qualified to do the work.

“It helps that we’re physicists,” Wright says. “We know what’s meant by Kilowatt hours, BTUs, R-Factors (the measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat going through it).“

“And we’re not just on our own,” Sugimoto adds. “The designers and builders work with us as colleagues. I think the coolest thing is that the students here are always willing to take on a challenge and engage with the administration on it, and that the administration is willing to support real actions on the ground.”

The students will write a report for the Board of Trustees and the College community. The fruits of their work will be concrete and long lived. Says Manstrom: “The real story of what they did—duplicating the process used by LEED certifiers—will be in the building. We’ll have an idea of what our certification would be even without the official designation.”

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