The Greening of Trinity

April 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

When exams are over at the end of April, the buildings of Trinity power down for two months until the summer program gets underway. Except for the Graham Library, the George Ignatieff Theatre, the chapel and the administrative offices, the College is largely empty. It used to be that when just one of these areas was being used, many systems, such as the air conditioning, were running campus-wide, costing money, wasting energy and enlarging Trinity’s environmental footprint.

Not anymore. Through active management and selective investment, energy is supplied to only those areas that need it. Unnecessary lighting and machinery are turned off. Kitchen fridges are emptied and unplugged. A new, central-air-conditioning plant is designed to run in stages to meet specific needs.

Meanwhile, with students off to summer jobs, 252 solar panels on the roof of the Larkin building quietly continue to generate money for scholarships and bursaries — approximately $24,000 annually. The solar panel project is part of a “greening” movement at Trinity that has seen its first rooftop garden, beehives on the top of Henderson Tower, and $4 million in efficiency upgrades in Strachan Hall and the main kitchen. The students, staff and faculty who have been working on these upgrades are well on their way to achieving their mission: to become “the greenest college in Canada.”

Trinity Bursar Geoffrey Seaborn remembers the month the College became seriously committed to going green. It was March 2007 when the student body voted to allocate $250,000 of student funds to a solar power project. It was a challenge and an opportunity that the College administration could not ignore. Planning got underway, and soon more ideas surfaced. In mid-January 2008, three students who were running the Trinity Environment Club (TEC) approached him with a plan to build a green roof at St. Hilda’s. Seaborn realized that the alumni class of ’58 was due for its 50th reunion, and that there happened to be “several very green-minded graduates” among them, so he put the two groups in touch. This resulted in a mutual challenge to raise funds, with the students and the class of ’58 each contributing $50,000 to the project and working closely on the design.

Collaboration grew. Michael de Pencier ’58 resurrected the dormant Environmental Protection Committee — an advisory group on sustainability comprising students, alumni, staff and faculty — to generate more ideas and push forward the solar panel project. The newly released provincial feed-in tariff program (where energy producers are paid a high rate of 71 cents per kilowatt-hour for sustainably produced electricity) and an interest-free loan of $262,000 from the City of Toronto made the project viable. Panels were installed in late 2010 and started generating green power in March 2011 (live energy production can be viewed here). In keeping with the intent of the original student contribution, money left over after loan repayments to the City is used for student awards and subsidized Metropasses. “So the students are receiving a well-deserved return on their green investment,” says Seaborn. He adds that prospective students are becoming more aware of the College’s commitment to sustainable strategies — in some cases deciding to attend Trinity mainly for that reason.

Other initiatives are putting the College on the environmental map. In 2009, Trinity was the first university east of the Prairies to sign the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action, an individual commitment to reduce and monitor environmental impacts on campus. Trinity has made great strides – energy consumption is down about 30 per cent in the past five years.

According to Beth Savan, current chair of the St. George Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee, Trinity is also doing something else that’s “very unusual”: inspiring the campus. Talk to anyone involved with “greening” Trinity and the enthusiasm is palpable. Building Manager Tim Connelly’s list of potential upgrades around the College takes 20 minutes to recite. Ask Seaborn for an example of his plans for next year and he offers 10 projects in the works.

But Savan says what is most impressive is the degree to which students and alumni have worked together. Many of the students who participated in the Trinity Environment Club, including those who approached Seaborn about the green roof, remain in close contact with alumni who helped them envision their plans. Naomi Jehlicka ’10, who worked on climate change policy with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture after graduation, met Nancy Graham ’58 while working on the rooftop garden project. Graham later introduced Jehlicka to the woman who would become her mentor. “It was a connection I would never have made had I not been involved with the project,” says Jehlicka.

“That multi-generational approach really paves the way to the future,” says Savan. “It’s hard sometimes for young people to be optimistic about climate change. But involving young people in all the measures that Trinity is undertaking is really important in building hope.” Th e concrete results are there for all to see.

Working on the green roof, beehives and solar panel project wasn’t only about talking business and fundraising strategy, says Jehlicka, recalling some “awesome stories” the alumni told about what life was like at Trinity when they were there in the ’50s. “There’s a thread that unites all the generations,” she says. “It really does speak to how Trinity is a place where traditions are cultivated.” She pauses. “And new traditions can arise. It just takes a little creativity.”

STRACHAN HALL’S THOUGHTFUL UPGRADES

In line with Trinity’s commitment to climate change action, Strachan Hall and the main kitchen recently underwent a $4-million restoration. Here are some of the challenges of upgrading a 70-year-old building to 2013 environmental standards, and how Trinity Building Manager Tim Connelly overcame them:

Challenge: “We didn’t want to change the look of the original building in any way. If anything, we wanted to return it as closely as possible to its original state.”

Solution: “Sylvia Lassam, the College archivist, dug up some old photos of Strachan Hall, and then we invited an alumnus – [retired architect] Bill Greer, who arrived as a student shortly after Strachan Hall was built – to come in and review the plans for the redesign. Greer remembered everything about the original building, right down to the colour of the lenses on the hall lights.”

Challenge: “Strachan Hall never had air conditioning. We had to find a way to cool it that didn’t increase energy consumption.”

Solution: “We decided to put in ceiling fans to circulate the air in the large hall. We shopped around and found some high-volume, low-rpm fans that fit in with the style of the building. The real trick was hiding the wires, but we found a way to bury them behind the walls.”

Challenge: “Kitchens are notorious gobblers of energy. How could we renovate and yet keep energy consumption under control?”

Solution: “We used state-of-the-art lighting. We insisted that every possible appliance carry the Energy Star rating. And since the kitchen needs a supply of fresh air all through the winter, we capture the heat coming off the massive cooking exhaust to warm the incoming air instead of using a separate source of energy to heat it.”

SUPPORTING STUDENTS

Aside from garnering the College a better eco-conscience, participating in the provincial feed-in tariff program has created a hefty side-benefit for Trinity — cash. Since the solar panels on the roof of the Larkin Building started generating a profit nearly two years ago, 70 students have received scholarships or bursaries totalling $46,300.

HOW THE SUM WAS DIVIDED:

To commuting students demonstrating financial need: 54 Metropass bursaries valued at $700 each. Total: $37,800

To fund academic travel and experiential opportunities, such as research trips or conferences: 12 awards valued at $300-$500 each. Total: $5,500

To one commuting student deeply involved in the College community and another who shows commitment to sustainability issues: 2 awards, each valued at $500. Total: $1,000

HENDERSON’S SWEET ADDITION:

Since local apiarists Peter Kok and Brian Hamlin first installed two beehives on the top of Henderson Tower, more than 200 staff, students and community volunteers have been involved with the project. Though the hives (there are now three) are open from May to September, their main purpose is educational, and harvesting takes place in the last two months. “We don’t make any profit from the hives,” says Seaborn. “But every once in a while, the College is offered a jar of honey, and that’s pretty nice too.”

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