Among the priorities listed in the Western Oregon University strategic plan is a section on sustainability and stewardship. Not only does the university carefully manage its natural resources on a daily basis, it also ensures that buildings on campus meet high standards for eco-friendly construction and operation.
When Ackerman Hall was built on campus in 2010, it earned accolades for its sustainable building practices: It included a rainwater collection system; it used lumber from the trees that had to be cleared from The Grove to make room for the dorm’s construction; and the patio in the courtyard uses a permeable surface made of recycled glass.
Ackerman was the first large-scale, new construction residence hall in the United States to earn LEED Platinum certification through the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest level attainable. But it is not only LEED certified building on campus.
The Peter Courtney Health and Wellness Center was the next structure to be added to campus. It was awarded LEED Gold
certification when it opened in 2011. Among its “green” features are an innovative storm water runoff system and a design that encourages natural ventilation, which helps lower energy costs.
Saving money on energy is a cause that’s near and dear to Facilities Engineer Paul Finke, who has worked at WOU since 1987, when he started on the grounds crew. He’s seen all kinds of buildings on campus come and go, and he’s enthusiastic about the direction construction of campus structures has been going.
“State law requires that buildings be constructed to LEED Silver level,” Finke said. “But we would do it anyway. The energy piece makes it worthwhile for us to do it. (At WOU), we operate on a thin budget, and we try to make the most out of our dollars. The LEED requirements include energy savings, so we focus on what we can save in the long run.”
The DeVolder Family Science center, which opened in 2013, is built to LEED Silver standards, as are the Richard Woodcock Education Center and the new Student Health and Counseling center. The university chose not to go to the expense of having the buildings certified LEED, however. The bragging rights were not worth the additional cost of the tracking, commissioning and paperwork involved in making the designation official, Finke said with a chuckle.
Still, he believes students can tell when they are in an eco-friendly building, and they appreciate that university prioritizes sustainability.
“I think LEED is important to students,” he said. “I believe it’s good to know that there is a plaque on the wall that says ‘This is a LEED building,’ whether they know what went into that or not.”
Communication Studies major Katelin Stewart ’18 would likely agree. She is the resident assistant in the sustainability community in Ackerman Hall and said she is glad WOU is part of a worldwide focus on our planet’s health.
“I love the sustainability focus of Ackerman,” Steward said. “I feel like it embodies the authentic experience I hoped to gain from living on campus. It allowed me to
really learn from my peers to make sure the impact I was leaving behind on our plant was a positive one and allowed me to grow with that education.”
On campus, the Woodcock education building probably garners the most attention for its eco-friendly aspects. The building, completed in 2016, was designated by then-Gov. John Kitzhaber as a demonstration project under Executive Order 12-16. That order promotes innovative use of wood products as a green building material and encourages innovative uses of wood such as cross-laminated timber (CLT). The CLT used in the building came from an Oregon lumber company, making the material “locally sourced,” just like ingredients on a restaurant’s menu.
The education center made WOU stand out as a leader in sustainable building, a trend that has continued to grow throughout the state.
“Sustainability is a global effort, and I think Western can be a leading force in supporting their students to be a part of that,” said Stewart.
Finke, who plans to retire at the end of June, believes sustainable practices such as energy conservation are not only good business – “You have to be responsible with state funds” – it’s also part of what makes WOU’s campus exceptional.
“Everybody who comes on campus has a comment on how beautiful it is,” he said.
Upcoming eco-friendly event:
Arbor Day Celebration
Noon to 1 p.m. Friday
Meet in front of RWEC