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The culture of Bethel is one that encourages students to try new things and to think critically.
Sarah Unruh ’12

Behind the scenes work yields campus energy savings and stewardship

by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The open space in the center of campus isn’t the only “green” at Bethel College these days.

It’s just more visible than the efforts of three Bethel staff, which over the past several years have reduced water and energy consumption, increased responsible use of both financial and natural resources and now begun to pay significant dividends.

Sometimes the solution to a large problem like an institution’s energy consumption is “to be aggressive in targeting small [things],” says Bethel maintenance worker Roger Reimer. Since he began his position at Bethel a little over a year ago, he has spent the bulk of his time doing just that, along with maintenance co-worker Adam Akers and Les Goerzen, director of Bethel’s physical plant.

“Small things” include converting all regular incandescent bulb lighting to compact fluorescent bulbs and, in the Memorial Hall and Thresher gyms, HID lamps to high-efficiency, high-output T5 fixtures; putting in occupancy sensors for several areas on campus, such as the library’s basement stacks, to keep lights turned off when no one is present; and installing hardware – and sometimes thousands of feet of wiring – to bring more of the campus buildings online with a computerized energy management system first deployed in 1985.

“It’s like having a computer at home,” Akers pointed out. “As time goes on, you begin to figure out how to use more and more of its capabilities.”

Sandifer Engineering of Wichita – which also services such clients as the new downtown Intrust Arena and Wichita State University – originally put the I/NET energy management system into place and continues to provide technical support.

“They treat us exactly the same as their large clients,” Akers says. “They’re very supportive of our ‘DIY’ [do-it-yourself] efforts.”

The library, for example, required some of that custom design. Because of the particular kind of light switches in the stacks, there was no commercial product available to put them on an occupancy sensor – so Reimer and Akers built it themselves. They also developed a mechanism for shutting off the water in Goering Hall, home of the athletics department, where the sump pump was consistently and inexplicably turning off, causing much water waste and several floods in the basement.

“If the sump pump quits working, even for a second, the water to the whole building shuts off for 24 hours,” Akers says. “That way, we know something happened and we can check it out. I don’t think there’s another building in Newton with that capability.”

“We [also] had to get creative in Mem Hall,” Reimer adds. Saturday afternoons in winter, the basketball coaches, whose offices are in Mem Hall, would need to come in ahead of games on Saturday evening, which meant firing up the boiler in the heat plant just for two or three offices. “We installed electric baseboard heaters. It’s an expensive way to heat but a lot cheaper than heating the whole building.”

Another example is Voth Hall – designed without a separate utilities system for the resident director’s apartment, which required, during school breaks, heating/cooling and providing hot water to an entire building for 1,000 square feet of living space. This summer, Bethel maintenance staff installed a separate system for the Voth Hall apartment and electricity costs dropped from $4,067 in July 2008 to $1,400 in July 2009, a reduction of nearly two-thirds.

Twelve of the 15 campus buildings are on the energy management system, which means anyone with the computer software – whether in a maintenance office computer, Goerzen’s home computer or Akers’ BlackBerry – can monitor energy usage, spot problems and even do at least an emergency fix remotely, 24 hours a day.

Even here, Voth Hall is requiring additional internal creativity. “Its original [student room heating and cooling] system isn’t compatible with the energy management system, so we’re developing the hardware to integrate it,” Akers says. He anticipates that project being finished by or soon after the start of school.

The system establishes “set points” for the heating and cooling systems in the buildings, which is particularly important in the residence halls. The thermostats can only be altered by about 2.5 degrees up or down from the set point, and the energy management system identifies areas that are too hot or too cold, along with the reason for the problem.

“In a lot of places [on campus], it’s a matter of making things idiot-proof,” Akers says. “You give people comfort and control without the ability to get extreme. It’s also been about creating awareness” of energy usage and how individuals and groups can conserve – for example, a mod deciding to shut off their air conditioning and open their windows on a cool day – he adds.

“The problem is how to reduce [consumption of] energy through the lighting and the heating/cooling systems,” Reimer says. “The simple solution is: Turn it off. But when you’re dealing with public spaces, the challenge is how to accomplish that. So we’re coming up with solutions that use the [energy management system] and its capabilities to solve the problem.”

“We’re saving energy, we’re saving money and we’re going to get more years of service out of our equipment” because of reduced usage, says Goerzen. “Comparing the ’07-’08 and ’08-’09 fiscal years, we used 19 percent fewer natural gas units and 15 percent fewer electricity units. For just this past June, we had a 27 percent reduction in electricity units used compared to June 2008, and in July it was 40 percent less than July 2008.

“We had an 18.7 percent reduction [in] the actual cost of our utilities. Our cost of total energy used works out to about $.90 per square foot of total building square footage. Some institutions use this [ratio] to determine where they are in comparison to others. A good number is $1 and it is good to see that we are well below that.

“Our energy saving measures, with help from lower natural gas rates, meant we lowered our utility spending by $100,000 for the ’08-’09 fiscal year.”

Another “green” feature in Bethel buildings, in place for a number of years, is low-volume flush toilets. Voth, the newest Bethel residence hall, included them from the beginning and Haury and Warkentin Court have had them installed. A project for the near future will be to change out the Goering Hall toilets – as well as well as making some energy-saving adjustments at Thresher Stadium; developing a time management plan to schedule use of buildings and classrooms for better energy efficiency; getting the last three buildings on the energy management system; and continuing to fine-tune that system

“We picked the big targets first,” says Reimer. “As we progress, we go to smaller and smaller spaces” – such as individual rooms rather than whole buildings. However, “every little piece adds up,” Akers says.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.