Campus Renovations Done Right

As anyone who pays utility bills knows, the cost of heating and cooling is continually going up. Figuring out how to use less energy has become an important strategy for homeowners and larger institutions alike.

In fact, energy savings is one of the two chief goals for Cornell College’s Facilities Services. Whatever we do, we come back to making our buildings more comfortable places to live and work while developing and incorporating ways to reduce the amount of energy we consume.

Throughout 2014, the college developed a campus master plan that included numerous changes to how we control the climates within our buildings. We worked with Alliant Energy to identify and quantify potential cost savings at the same time. Alliant performed energy audits on many buildings across campus, and we used these audits to help identify opportunities and plan the renovations to the residence halls and the Thomas Commons. This early focus helped make energy efficiency a key component of our planning.

Based on the results of the audit and the follow-up discussions, we identified 11 projects to pursue during the renovations. These projects ranged from replacing existing lights with more efficient LED bulbs to identifying and incorporating new technologies in heating and cooling equipment.

One early project was to replace the fluorescent bulbs in Cole Library with LED tubes. It cost $10,000 to do the entire building and we will save $2,200 annually. We got a 40 percent rebate from Alliant on the cost of the bulbs, and we’ll never have to replace them again.

The master plan calls for eliminating our reliance on the 19th-century power plant over the next five years. We estimate the existing plant to be about 65 percent efficient. Water is heated in huge boilers inside the plant, and the steam is distributed to campus buildings via a network of insulated underground pipes. [Read “Blowing Off Steam” in retrofit’s July-August 2017 issue, page 44.] You can see patches of snow melting along the lines in winter because of the inefficiency of the pipes. In March, a major leak developed and it took an additional 3,000 gallons of water and crews working through a weekend to make the repairs.

To date, we’ve removed West Science, Law Hall, Old Sem, Merner Hall, Cole Library, Thomas Commons and Olin Hall from the underground steam system, installing self-contained units that are 95 to 98 percent efficient. The changes there, in newer construction such as Smith and Russell residence halls, and in the newly renovated halls (Dows, Tarr and Pauley-Rorem) mean temperatures can be controlled in individual rooms rather than by floor, so students can keep their environment comfortable at all times.

As a result of our work, last year we received Alliant’s highest award for energy efficiency improvement. (View a video about Cornell’s Energy Summit Award.) We expect to use 150,000 fewer kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which will save us about $45,000 per year. That money can now be reinvested in the college.

Every dollar we save on changing out light bulbs could buy new paint or a new mattress, which helps make a residence hall a home. We want to make students feel as comfortable as possible, and if they’re comfortable, they’re studying better. In the end, that’s what it’s all about.

This blog first appeared as the “Last Word” in Cornell College’s alumni magazine, the Cornell Report.

About the Author

Joel Miller
Joel Miller is director of Facility Services for Cornell College, Mount Vernon, Iowa. (The college is Editor-in-Chief Christina Koch's alma mater.)

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