Building Audits and keys

Let the auditing begin. I guess some major things have happened since my last blog post. With the middle of July coming, so did the time for auditing buildings. Armed with a clipboard, a set of master keys, and my pencil, I set off on my first building audit. I chose to try my hands at tackling Jonas Clark, one of our major academic buildings here at Clark. Since then I’ve made my way through the Sackler Science Center and our Biophysics building. Jefferson and the Geography Building are next in my sights. Who knows, maybe I’ll do them today.

So, what exactly does a building audit entail? Because I am not a professional auditor, my intuition can only get my so far. But that’s ok. A lot of the notes I am taking advise the installation of motion sensors for lights at certain points in the building. Anyone who has spent some time in Sackler is familiar with its long hallways. Over the school year these hallways are bustling with students as they move to and from their labs and classes. However, over the summer the picture is very different one.

As I make my way through each building I am sure to stop and talk to anyone I see working there. Although there are certainly things that I can pick up on myself, it would seem wrong not to involve the people who spend all day working in that exact building. For example, someone working in a lab in Sackler told me that no more than two people walked past him and down the hallway his lab is on in the past few hours. And guess what? The lights had been on the whole time. Many buildings on campus have these motion sensors, which flash green up in the corners of the ceilings, but Sackler does not appear to be one of them.

I try my best to take notes of good things that I see, too. Take our Education Department for example. I’ve spent my fair share of time down there in the ground floor of Jonas Clark over these past two years. However, it wasn’t until my last trip with my clipboard that I noticed how they chose to light the space, which houses faculty offices, a kitchen, library, and a conference room. The Department is laid out like this: a central, small library area is in the very center, then four hallways close in around the library, making a square. It is important to note that the walls of these hallways, which open up to offer access to faculty offices, do not reach all the way to the ceiling. Rather than turn on all the lights in the room, those in the department elect to only turn on the lights in the hallways, leaving the central area with books unlit. Doing so provides plenty amount of light while refraining from over lighting the area.

Example of a good lighting choices in Clark's Education Department.

Example of a good lighting choices in Clark’s Education Department.

So that’s a good thing. Another good thing is that Media Services tends to keep its doors open while blasting AC. Just kidding. That’s actually pretty unfortunate for obvious reasons. Another thing I learned during my audits is that there is a light installed under the walk way connecting Sackler and the Biophysics building that is always on. Always. Even during the day this little light of Clark University shines. I would be hard pressed to find a need for this light to be on even at night as there are much larger street-style lights no more than a few paces away.

Light on 24/7 outside of Sackler

Light on 24/7 outside of Sackler

I surprised myself a little bit this past week, too. On my way out of my office last Tuesday on my way to play with a watt meter and vending machines, Jenny pulled me aside. She was meeting with someone, and asked me to say whatever came to my mind when she said the word “empowerment.” After a brief pause as I tried to come up with something to say, I realized the answer was what I was about to go out and do. This internship has empowered me. When I began in the beginning of June I was not fully aware of how much sway I would have in the direction of the work I would be doing. Now, almost two months in, it has become pretty clear that I have a good amount of say in what I choose to do and how. Something great about feeling empowered now is that it is ok, and expected to a certain point, to make mistakes. That’s what learning is. Repetition through trial and error. This is something that I have also learned through managing The Local Root, a student-run venture aimed at providing the Clark Community with fresh, local produce. Both experiences have taught me that it is ok to learn on the go as long as you are willing to applying yourself fully to the cause at hand.

This all seemed like a pretty natural thing to say, and I forgot about it somewhat as I set off on my work for the rest of the day. I ran into Jenny the next day, and she told me something I didn’t expect to hear. She told me that what I had said influenced the woman she had been talking with to want to work in a college/higher education environment. After meeting with Jenny, she drove straight to Northampton, Ma, which happens to be where I grew up, to interview at Smith College. Kinda cool to know that something I said might have influenced someone else so much.


I Guess it’s Time to Make Some Lists…

Well, it’s official. Though it may be the second week of July already, I finally have a clear direction in which I want to take this project. I set out earlier in the summer thinking its direction had already been predetermined. Though it had been somewhat, I underestimated the amount of control I would have in choosing exactly how the project functioned.

Last week I had a conversation with Jenny, my advisor, about the different ways people approach problems. We used climate change as an example given its direct relation to my project. So, let’s do the same thing here. Why not.

One way to approach rapid climate change is by means similar to actions Clark took years ago by taking preventive measures and planning for the future. Actions like these are taken because whoever is involved is, or was, solidly invested in preventing possible consequences from occurring. In the case of climate change, these consequences include things like frequent storms and rapid fluctuations in temperatures. An example of this might be Clark’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2020. Actions that fall into this category are often bigger picture goals. Take the suggested, and scientifically supported, 350 ppm of carbon dioxide we should limit ourselves to putting out. At this point, we’re surging above 400 ppm and the trend is only going up. As a result, many believe that it is time for a different approach. Long-term planning didn’t work, so, for some, it’s time to look out for a new solution.

Atmospheric CO2 Graph

Atmospheric CO2 Graph

This second approach towards tackling climate change, or any problem, is rooted in resiliency. X is already happening, so let’s build Y to stop it. In a very simple way those who adhere to this approach act out of fear and take preventive measures. We know that sea levels will rise, so why not build walls? We know that storms will likely persist, so why not build dams and come up with measures by which to protect ourselves.

One group acts out of fear, and the other out of careful and long-term planning. That said, it’s hard to know if one method is better than the other. Some might argue that the first has failed us to it must be time to move on. Fear can be a strong motivator. Just last night I went and saw the new Planet of the Apes movie with some friends. Without giving much of the film away, I can safely say that the notion of fear being a motivator comes out strong.

Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s get back to the project at hand. I set out this summer with the goal of having an impact on how energy efficient we are here at Clark. What I did not know was exactly how I would reach my goal. Now I know. I want to impact efficiency by bridging middle ground between the two methods described above.

I met with our director of Student Leadership and Programming last week and discussed drafting up checklists to be used by clubs after they put on an event. My checklist would include things like making sure all the tech is unplugged and turned off and that all lights have been turned off. If heating or cooling was used, there may be a box to turn the thermostat back. A list of simple things like this would not hamper or get in the way of putting on an event. Rather, it would seek to streamline the process while simultaneously enhancing energy efficiency.

I want to do the same thing for the dorms, too. During the final weeks of class leading up towards breaks, RA’s do their best to inform students how they ought to power down and prepare their dorm rooms for the duration of the break. Yet somethings get glossed over. What if our custodial team was given a checklist of things to look out for? What if University Police (UP) were given a similar checklist to look out for while they do their rounds? Things like lowering the thermostat, closing windows/shades, and shutting of lights. Simple things. UP likely already does some of these strictly for safety measures. Simple things that might add up to make a large difference.

Nothing Teaches Resiliency like Repetition

When something does not work out the first time, chances are there is a better chance it will the second time around. Okay, maybe not always, but repetition and practice tend to have that effect. The more you do a certain thing the better you will be at it. I guess that means that I should be pretty good at organizing excel sheets by now.

Though my excel skills surely still can be honed (I’m certainly no good at writing equations in it), I have been spending a good amount of time pushing my way through and making sense of excel documents that past interns similar to myself created. These documents document, for lack of a better word, work orders that have either been filed with physical plant or, for some reason or another, are sitting in sad state of un-filed limbo. It’s going to be my job over this next bit of time to do my best to figure out why some work orders have been completed and some have not.

A brief look into the document.

A brief look into the document.

To make matters more interesting, there is  a whole set of orders that were approved by physical plant and have still not been completed. Reasons behind this particular category range from “not in budget” to “should be RLH’s decision.” My question is why is there room for one work order in the budget but not the other? Also, wouldn’t there have been a new budget drawn up since this list of work orders was drafted? Is there still no room?

Examples of reasons behind uncompleted work orders.

Examples of reasons behind uncompleted work orders.

When I met with Elio he pointed at a large stack of papers on a table in his office and told me they were all work orders. Most of them were for projects in Carlson Hall, and even more of them were for things like installing motion sensors to connect with the light fixtures. He said he wasn’t sure he thought it was worth it to send a big team in there and spend money on putting sensors in to control relatively low-watt light bulbs. But there should be a new budget for this year, right? Might that mean it’s time to look at these works orders a second time?

After I sat down for the first time and arranged the document in the way I thought I wanted to I started to have doubts. Maybe I missed some work orders? What if I put some in the wrong category and a work order that has been completed is now marked as incomplete? So, I rolled back my sleeves, pulled the brim of my hat real low, and dug in behind home plate. Not really. That might make sense if I was playing for the Worcester Bravehearts this summer, but really does not relate in here. So, what I really did, was roll back my sleeves and do the whole thing over again.

Repetition resulting from trial and error seems to be the way to go. That’s always the way I feel I have learned best, and this summer has been no exception. Though I wrote about this already, I have had a harder time scheduling meetings with people than I had anticipated I would. Just this last week I was supposed to meet with someone. Too bad I was the only one who showed up. But hey, nothing I can do but pull the brim of my hat so that it rests just above my eyes and stare in at my catcher and wait for the sign. Just kidding. What an odd metaphor that would have been… Seems a lot easier to pick up the phone again and call or send another email requesting a meeting. I think I’ll go ahead and go with one of those options.

Bad baseball metaphors aside, I would definitely recommend checking out a Bravehearts game this summer. Few things are better than going to a game over the summer and wondering how much energy it takes to power the lights and the rest of the stadium. Ho hum.

Home of the Bravehearts.

Home of the Bravehearts.

Helios or Elio? Regardless, Lightbulbs are Going Off

The first thing I thought of when I called Elio Chimento, Clarks lead electrician, was how similar his name is to Helios, the Titan God of the sun. Elio seemed pretty fitting name for someone who was about to talk to me about lights for the next 45 minutes or so. I wonder if Elio ever flies around on a chariot like Helios. I guess I’ll have to ask him when I go back and follow up…



Elio attributed a lot of the progress he and his team have made to the availability of LED light bulbs. With very minimal rewiring an LED tube can be installed where a fluorescent one once was. The savings from doing so are clear. It’s worth it, so let’s get down and dirty and do it. LED lights can produce more light while using far less electricity. Thanks to the fact that many people have started making them, the initial high cost of purchasing an LED light bulb has gone down. Elio’s next big project is automating the Dolan with lights that he can control from his tablet on the go or from his computer in his office.

Doing so would allow light to truly only be used when it needs to be. When I asked about if this is something that is in the works for the Kneller as well he gave me a two-part answer. The first makes a whole lot of sense. This is the simple fact that the Dolan is operating as something of a trial run. Elio has observed similar systems in other buildings and gymnasiums and has now opted to try it out for himself.  The second reason had to do with maintaining the necessary amount of foot candles to adhere to NCAA regulations. Even now as I am sitting and writing this I am not entirely sure where to find what exactly this number is and why meeting it with an automated system might be difficult. I guess the man I should be asking is Elio, not Google. It would seem to me that safety is safety. If a space is well-lit enough to be a functioning practice space, why is that not good enough for our main gym.

Elio then went on to tell me about the other exciting things that are going on down by the Dolan – solar powered lights. Everytime the tennis team finishes practice, he told me, they switch off the lights on the courts and turn on the lights along the outfield of the baseball field in order to walk out of the facilities. In doing so an enormous amount of energy is wasted almost every night. The answer to this problem? Install a set of solar powered lights to fill in for turning on the lights by the baseball field. Although these lights have a high overhead installation price, the hope is that they will pay off in the long run. Also, it saves Elio and his team from having to do some serious digging in order to put in new wiring were they to put in non-solar powered lights. Somewhat to my surprise, my conversation with Elio ended on a similar note to that with the one I had with Pete. Though he did not get quite as excited as Pete had, Elio was sure to mention solar roadways, too. With at least these two guys on board with the idea should the technology hold and continue to progress, it would not surprise me if more of the team over at physical plant is thinking along the same lines.

Exploring Previously Closed Doors

During the school year, and even during the summer, I find myself walking out of the library and along the paved pathway that greets its steps on a daily basis. On the way, I inadvertently walk past the corner of Jonas Clark through which a series of colorful pipes can be seen below. More than once I’ve stood there, looking down at all the bits and pieces that make Clark run. Maybe that’s a somewhat climactic buildup to getting a tour of our co-generation plant and boiler room, but I had fun going there. Here’s a little peak of what it looks like on the inside…


A major take away from my short time there was gaining an understanding for the reason of all the construction going on around Bullock Hall. If anyone was curious like I was, here’s the answer. Pete, the very nice guy who showed me around, told me that he feels he and his team have gone after a lot of the major projects and are now picking at the “low lying fruit.” This new construction is being done so that new pipes can be laid in the ground. These pipes will be better protected from erosion and will not leak like the older pipes they are replacing currently do. As a result, more heat will be able to make its way from its starting point to it’s end point without escaping. Thus, the effectiveness of the co-generation plant will be enhanced significantly. These new pipes, in connection with new condensing boilers, will allow less heat to escape.

By the time we got to the control room Pete was smiling. Leaning in close to hear his voice over all the noise, I learned about all the automation that helps make his job so much easier and efficient. He showed me all the meters measuring the energy output, and explained how there is a sweet spot at which everything runs extremely smoothly. It just so happens that as a result more energy is created than Clark actually needs. The “extra” bit is then put back into the system. It was around this time that Pete started to explain the plan to black out the entire campus and start everything up using these new installations. This is something that I want to learn more about. Though I did my best to take notes, the near deafening drone of everything running down there made it tough to do so.

Oh, and one more thing. Solar roadways. After we had made our way back to the front of the building, Pete asked if I had read about solar roadways, which have been making sound in various news outlets as of late. When I told him that I had he smiled, shrugged, and said something along the lines of – why not here? Though this technology surely has lots of advancement to make before large-scale installations start to make sense, there is no denying the potential that could result.

Though this is a technology that has existed and been in production since around 2009, it was only recently that there was an extreme spike in media interest thanks to a certain viral video of Kony like proportions. The video I’m talking about was put up on YouTube a little more than a month ago and already has close to 17 million views. Unlike Kony, this video has some good things to say, and Pete seems to agree. He told me that now that now that many of the older pieces of technology have been replaced and new boilers are going in there is no obvious next big project for the time being. Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration has commissioned parking lots to be built out of these photovoltaic cells. Who knows, maybe that little smile Pete gave means he wants to see some of those here on campus is the future. Not only would they be able to generate more than enough energy, he said, but they would also show significant cuts in snow removal assuming they work as they should. Who knows. I guess time will have to tell.

Hey, an Office? That’s Pretty Cool


It’s great when the thing you are researching is something that you are personally invested in. Though I certainly feel this way about certain bits of school work, it’s different when there is something more at stake than getting a paper back. That’s how I’ve been feeling so far this summer. In short, my goal this summer is to have some measurable, quantifiable impact on our energy output here at Clark. I don’t care how small or minute the number might end up being. It’s the fact that there’s something I can change through diligent and hard work that excites me.

Projects like this function largely like a snowball rolling down a hill for lack of a better metaphor (please excuse it, it’s kind of late). One summer someone does X, then the next someone does Y, and now it’s my turn to manipulate all the variables and come up with an answer to the equation. Then, this answer turns into a new X and the calculation has to be done again. You get it. Or at least I hope you do. A large help in my ability to add up X and Y has been having conversations with members of the Clark community. These people are all invested in a similar way. They are, like myself, members of the Clark community and would like to continue to see advancements in our effort towards sustainability.

It has also been great to read about projects going on on other college campuses. One that truly stands out in my mind while writing this is Delta College’s Green Book. This past year, members of Delta College collaborated to put out a publication all about sustainability. Yet, the book that they published was very different from other things like it.  They went well past hard, technical facts and reports. While things like this were included, they were printed alongside paintings, photography, and pieces of creative writing. The goal was to involve all sorts of talents in effort to expand and promote the idea of sustainability across the campus. Though this is surely a large undertaking, as a Global Environmental Studies and English double major (let’s hope those credits work out and there’s enough time…) the idea seems terrific.

Another project that stood out took place at the University of South Carolina. Here, the school held a Green Networking Breakfast with the hopes that faculty, staff, and students would all attend and share ideas. Of the 100 plus attendees, 56 were students. Many of these students went on to build relationships with those around them, and many landed internships or started collaborating on projects with the faculty and staff they met at the breakfast. So much of promoting sustainable practices is interacting with people and building relationships, and this breakfast seemed to do just the trick in South Carolina. It sounds somewhat similar to the Clark Sustainability Collaborative we have going on over here, but still worth a mention , too. Good job, University of South Carolina. Brown bag lunch, anyone?

Plus, did I mention that I have an office with a couple nice windows? What’s so bad about that.