Thursday, May 1, 2008

Unity College Reduces Carbon Footprint, Establishes Agreement to Purchase Carbon Off-Sets from Maine Housing

With climate change looming, state agencies, private corporations, colleges, universities and individuals have all started to take steps to reduce carbon emissions and lessen or in some cases, eliminate their carbon foot print. Unity College is no different and continues to take steps to work towards a 60% reduction by 2010 and ultimately zero carbon emissions by 2015. These goals are a true example of environmentalism for the real world. Students, faculty, staff and administrators of Unity College continually implement small-scale projects which ultimately add up to accomplish a major goal. Unity College hopes to show all citizens that everybody can take small steps that are visible to everyone. Unity College has many avenues available in order to work towards the zero emissions goal, and as of April 22, 2008, a major step has been taken towards eliminating the carbon footprint of Unity College.

During a press conference held in Quimby Library on the Unity College campus on Earth Day, April 22, 2008 Unity formed a major partnership that is the first of its kind in the nation. In an agreement with Maine Housing, Unity College will purchase carbon off-sets to reduce its net annual emissions. Not only does this agreement enable Unity College to take one more step toward reaching the goal of zero emissions by 2015, this agreement helps funnel money back into the local community. In particular, this money will benefit low income families and individuals that rely on Maine Housing.

Money generated through the sale of carbon off-sets to Unity College will help Maine Housing install additional Solar Thermal units in low income housing units across Maine. In turn, carbon emissions will be reduced. Maine Housing tracks these reductions in a Carbon Registry. From there, additional carbon off-sets will be purchased by institutions such as Unity College. This flow of money for carbon off sets helps institutions such as Unity achieve pivotal goals while also providing assistance to the most needy of Maine’s population. Currently, the carbon market has grown to approximately $60 billion in trading.

As Unity considers its future, the College must take additional steps in an effort to become more sustainable and further reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. This agreement with Maine Housing will purchase 250 carbon off-sets a year. Each off-set is for one ton of carbon. Currently, Unity’s annual carbon emissions total approximately 1023 tons. As a result, Unity will have reduced its carbon footprint by 24.4%. An agreement such as this comes with a cost to the institution; however the total is surprisingly minimal. This cost is a price that Unity College is willing to pay in exchange for the benefit of assisting low-income individuals and families across Maine.

Unity College considers working to benefit local communities to be a core value. In the long term, if Unity is to achieve the carbon reduction goals by the established dates, the College stands to gain in a variety of ways. College officials believe this agreement will not only help low income residents in Maine, but possibly lead other colleges and universities to follow suit.
In addition to purchasing carbon off sets, Unity has other projects planned in order to reduce the overall emissions of the College. In the near future, a wood pellet boiler will be installed to replace the current oil furnace used to heat Quimby Library. In addition, the Unity College Master Planning process has identified the need to keep the current student activities building for at least the medium term. With each new step taken, Unity continues to place itself at the forefront of the nation-wide push to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to slow global climate change.

Along with installing upgrades and new features to sustain existing buildings, as Unity moves into the future with the current Master Planning process, every new building called for by the Master Plan will be built to be LEED certifiable. By ensuring that every measure is taken to make each new project sustainable, Unity College will continue to make strides to achieve its zero emissions goal. Mitch Thomashow, president of Unity College, remarked that each project is a small step taken to address the “catastrophic increase in climate change.” With each new measure put in place, Unity will continue to be role model for sustainability. It is already being recognized as a leader in efficiency and sustainability by many educational institutions throughout the state and country.

Ultimately, this landmark agreement between Unity College and Maine Housing lays the ground work for what is likely to become a nationwide trend. By setting aside barriers and looking locally, Unity College has proved that it is possible to achieve conservation goals while benefiting the local community. President Mitch Thomashow pointed out that this agreement is one more step that works to “broaden the constituency for conservation.”

Centers and Centeredness-A look at Centers and the Unity Master Plan

What is the center of a community? For an architect, a center is the place where people meet and converse. Creating centers is a primary consideration while implementing the Unity College Master Plan.

Randolph T. Hester examines various centers, their design and purposes in his book Design for Ecological Democracy. Throughout this section, Hester looks at developing democracy through building community as well as integrating buildings and landscapes in order to create centers. As Unity College moves forward with the Master Planning process, every new building and landscape feature should be designed with the thought of working to develop centers in order to foster community.

When taking a look at centers in relation to the current Unity campus, many centers exist that have been created through the placement of buildings. These centers exist outside of the cafeteria/north coop/south coop area. A large amount of residential students pass through this area traveling from residence halls to the café. In addition, many faculty and staff pass through this area when traveling to north coop (administration), south coop (classes and faculty offices) or on their way to the top of campus. As a result, often times there are chance interactions among people which result in conversations on a large variety of topics.

The second widely used center is the student activity center building. While it acts as a center and draws a large number of people with a plethora of interests, there are many things that could be done to make this center more appealing. The parking lot in front of the student activities building acts as a small center where people entering and leaving the building mingle and interact. This center is primarily used before and after classes and occasional events that draw people to the building. In addition, people exiting or entering the library pass through this space and often times engage in conversations.

While many people use this particular center, the fact that the gathering place is also a parking lot often deters people. Hester explains that human and vehicular interaction will reduce the number of contacts people have with each other, as well as the amount of time an individual spend utilizing that center. By reducing the parking lot and eliminating the human/vehicular contacts, this established center would become highly effective.

As Unity College finalizes the master plan, these centers must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, when the location of residences halls are changed, a new café/student center is built and new academic buildings are constructed, centers must be developed. Buildings must be placed and oriented in order to be conducive to building the community. In addition, by carefully incorporating parking lots and other vehicular zones, the negative impacts that vehicles have on centers can be avoided.

Along with centers that incorporate the traffic from one location to the next, Unity College needs to look into centers that cater to the individual niches of the campus. Centers focusing on forestry, fisheries, adventure education, sustainability, humanities, wildlife, con law, hunting, fishing, shooting, boating, hiking and cultures all need to be created. By having various places around campus dedicated to individual interests, the college can help bring together individuals that have a unique interest. As a result, these people will be able to mesh and become more productive members of the college community. An example of one of these centers or niches would be the constructing of an outdoor sport/conservation niche. This location could have a small lounge with a fishing/hunting/shooting theme. Various clubs could hold their meetings at this location and it would make them feel at home. In addition, in close proximity, there could be an archery range, easily accessible to the campus community. As a result, anyone that has the slightest interest in archery may be more inclined to investigate the sport and seek out individuals to give them advice and get them started in the right direction. Currently, many activities and interests around campus are secluded and do not feel welcoming to new people. By positioning centers in more visible, open areas, they are likely to be more effective in recruiting people to that interest. Ultimately, through the development of centers, Unity College can continue to grow and progress into the future.

Hester, Randolph T. Design for Ecological Democracy. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

February 27, 2008 Master Planning Session Review

Coming into the final group meeting for the Master Planning process, the goals were clear and I believe everyone was anxious to see the final result. After another great dinner, people were assigned to groups and immediately got to work. The groups focused on developing a timeline from the present to 2020. In the timeline, the groups needed to provide details in regards to when construction of certain buildings or features should be completed and when certain structures should be removed. After completing the timeline, the groups were charged with drawing a detailed plan that reflected everything set forth in their timeline.

When the clock struck 7:30, the groups began filtering their way back into the large meeting room of the UCPA. Once again, group members carried large papers with writing and plans scribbled about. After all of the individual presentations, it was clear that the first and foremost priority of the group was to construct a new academic building/complex to replace the ailing Koons Hall. After all, academics and the education is the reason that the college exists and it is extremely fitting that we move forward by taking drastic steps to improve the facilities in which we learn.

After listening to the groups present and looking at their information on paper, the combined timeline for the master planning process is best represented by the following (first priority to last):

• Install the President’s Residence• Construct a new academic building to replace Koons Hall
• Remove Koons Hall to make the space available for a potential future building site
• Construct a 50-60 bed capacity residence hall similar to Cianchette or Maplewood
• Construct a new cafeteria/student center in the previous Koons Hall location
• Remove cottages and install demonstration/community garden
• Overhaul the Student Activities Building/repurpose (move CRC/OAC to repurposed building)
• Move maintenance to OAC/CRC building (short term)
• Construct an additional residence hall
• Construct a path to connect the college campus to the town of Unity
• Move Wood Hall residents to new Residence Hall and move Admin. into Wood Hall
• Construct a new Student Center/Student Union with state of the art athletic facilities
• Remove NC/SC/Cafe
• Construct a new residence hall
• Remove EV/WV
• Remove existing maintenance buildings and build a new, smaller maintenance facility at existing maintenance/farm location

The above timeline reflects all five of the group’s timelines. Some smaller items were continually reoccurring in the master planning process however left out on the timeline, so they were plugged into the timeline in an effort to set goals for achieving both small and large scale projects.

As I sit here and look ahead to the future, I would expect to return in the fall of 2008 and see the president’s residence standing tall behind Eastview and Westview. In a year from now, as the ground is broken and a foundation becomes the building blocks of a new academic facility, I will look back and see the many hours spent throughout the last year paying off. As Unity continues to move forward, grow and excel, I strongly believe that the new, revamped campus will help students achieve amazing things. When I graduate in another two years, I look forward to the opportunity to return to the Unity campus and hope that I will continually see growth and improvements that are a result of this Master Plan. At this point, I will continue to give whatever I can in an effort to represent the Unity College student body and look forward to seeing the Unity campus evolve.

February 13, 2008 Master Planning Session Review

As I entered the Unity Center for the Performing Arts on the evening of Wednesday, February, 13, 2008 I could feel the enthusiasm that flowed throughout the room. After a very successful and productive meeting the week before, it appeared as though the participants were ready for round two. As I got ready to record the night’s events, I sat down at the table and observed the crowd. Administrators consulted with Architects, Faculty conversed amongst each other while others talked with students. Community members were greeted by students, faculty and staff and a few new participants chatted amongst each other, attempting to figure out what the protocol was. A few minutes late, the voice of President Mitch Thomashow interrupted the chatter, announcing that dinner was ready and immediately following, we would begin our work.

After fulfilling their hunger, the participants were very attentive as Mitch announced the plan for the night. The plan was to:

• Establish 5 new groups that each had at least one representative from each group from the week before.

• Each group was to establish 5 top criteria that should be included in the final master plan.

• Each group was to take the “streams and bridges” plan and modify it in order to best fit their established criteria.

• Each group was to report out to the entire group starting at approximately 7:30.

When 7:30 arrived, all five groups returned to the meeting area with papers and graphics in hand. One by one, the groups presented their top five criteria and shared their revised plans. The plans were not extremely detailed, however they gave an overview of what the group thought the campus should look like in order to best conform to their selected criteria. After hearing the five presentations, the following criteria appeared to be the most important to the groups:

• Efficiency-All buildings should be energy efficient and be designed to further the sustainable practices of the college.

• Community-All buildings and spaces should be designed in order to foster a safe community in every part of the college and establish a connection with the town.

• Flow-All buildings, parking lots, roadways and walkways should be designed to conform to the day to day flow of the college in an effort to reduce pedestrian/vehicular conflicts.

• Learning-All buildings and places should be built and designed in order to foster learning and be conducive to student’s growth.

• Distance-Buildings should be designed so that there is appropriate distance between learning and living spaces so that residential students feel as though they have a living area and a work area on campus.

While this list does not include every single criteria that was mentioned, I feel as though those left out are represented through the ones that I have chosen to bring forth. It is readily apparent that all buildings must be built in order to conserve resources and be as sustainable as possible. In addition, as a residential college, we must continue to foster community, both through the design of buildings, as well as the placement, ensuring that students have an appropriate buffer between where they live and where they do a majority of their school work.

As we wrapped up the session for the night, Mitch thanked everyone for attending and laid out the game plan for the following meeting. The plan was to:

• Divide into 5 groups

• Develop a timeline for the next 12 years including
-New Construction
-Building Removal
-Refurbishing of Buildings
-Small scale projects

• Develop a new drawing/plan including any buildings that would be kept, as well as factoring in any buildings that would be torn down and new construction. The plans should include roadways and pathways as well as any other change to the campus.

• Present these timelines and plans to the group.

After Mitch finished and the meeting concluded, I briefly spoke with some of the attendees before returning to my residence hall. As I unpacked my materials and computer from the meeting, I compiled my thoughts from the night. Ultimately, I once again decided that it was an extremely productive session. Everyone seemed eager to participate and lend a voice. There were minor disagreements on some things and major agreements on others. It was truly great to see such a large constituency working together on a master plan. It is even greater to think that this particular format may be unprecedented and makes me look forward to the next meeting where we will ultimately decide which the first step is in working towards Unity 2020.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

February 6, 2008 Master Planning Session Review

With the master planning process entering the next stages, I knew that it would be a great opportunity to combine great ideas with dedicated individuals from throughout the Unity College community. Approximately 40 students, faculty, staff, board members and administrators descended on the Unity Center for the Performing Arts. The plan for the night was to break up into small groups based on a pre-selected topic. These groups were then responsible for establishing criteria for their selected topic. After selecting criteria to build their plan around, the groups were to choose a plan. At this point, most groups decided to modify the existing plan to better suit their criteria. Starting at approximately 7:15, the groups reported out to the entire group.

After choosing which group to be in, my group was responsible for Community Life and Recreation. We established criteria such as; ensuring adequate open space for recreation, designing buildings to incorporate indoor and outdoor activity, ensuring the safety of all members of the community and incorporating small gathering places/niches. After listing out approximately 20 different criteria, we ranked each of the three plans according to our criteria. In the end, it was decided that “Streams and Bridges” was the plan that was best suited for the criteria that we had established.

After deciding on a plan, many changes and modifications were made between the groups. Each group was told to stay within their selected topics and only incorporate the elements which pertained to their topic. After looking at the “streams and bridges” plan, the community life and recreation group decided that it would be best to keep the athletics on campus, rather than move them to the Field of Dreams. In addition, we felt as though it would be critical to use careful placement of trees and barriers in order to maintain privacy while also ensuring the safety of people while on the campus.

While the reporting out process was taking place, I ensured that I got equal representation from each group. By incorporating the different criteria and ideas and recording each point, I was able to compare and contrast the different groups. Ultimately, the following points appeared to be repeated the most, and therefore should be carefully considered/incorporated in the future:• “Streams and Bridges was selected by 4 out of the 5 groups as the plan that best suited their selected criteria. “Farms and Gardens” was selected by the energy and conservation group because of the high efficiency a plan such as “Farms and Gardens” would produce.

• The safety of all people entering the Unity College Community was very important and incorporated by all groups.

• Promoting/providing/incorporating access for disabled individuals was frequently repeated.

• The need to incorporate places for small gathering/niches in every building and setting was very prevalent.

• Most groups hoped to establish a stronger connection with the community by making the campus as inviting as possible, as well as establishing a walkway/trail from the middle of campus, down into the middle of town.

• Most groups felt as though the campus should be designed with efficiency in mind, such as efficient use of energy and natural resources, to the placement of buildings to ensure adequate/efficient services for residential students.

When the meeting was adjourned, everyone left knowing that a large amount of information and ideas had been shared and put out onto the table. The energy was great and all attendees expected to return on Wednesday, February 13, 2008. The goal was to break the existing topic groups into five separate groups that had representation from all five topics. These groups then planned on incorporating all ideas and selecting a plan that was best suited for the ideas and criteria that was established. From there, the groups would be modifying the existing plan/developing a new plan to be best suited for their combined ideas and criteria.

Ultimately, after leaving UCPA for the night and returning to my room, I had a large amount of thoughts and ideas flowing through my head. I felt as though the session was extremely productive and flowed incredibly well. All groups appeared to be extremely on task and accomplished a tremendous amount of work. The ideas were great and the energy level was exciting to see. Because I was involved with a particular group, I was unable to spend time observing exactly how each and every group functioned. However, based on the end results, it appeared as though each group worked well together and formed a mesh that ultimately produced great work.

In addition to how well some things went, at times it was frustrating working with other people. Because everyone had so many ideas and opinions, sometimes it was hard to ensure that your opinion was heard. In addition, because we had to ensure that we kept on task and meet the time deadlines, I felt as though some things were slightly rushed. As a result, I think some things could have been looked at in more depth, or additional ideas presented. At the same time, I feel as though we as a group were able to work well and using the established criteria, ideas and opinions, we were able to produce a great product. By having differing viewpoints, both political and personal, my group was able to ensure that nothing was overlooked because one person or the next always caught something that someone else may have over looked. Ultimately, I felt that this may have been the biggest factor that allowed us to come up with a great final product for the first master planning session.

With all slight disagreements and negatives aside, I felt as though the first master planning session was a great success and I looked forward to the second session, hoping that the energy, enthusiasm and incredible work ethic would continue.