GW invests $5.3 million in green makeover

The University has set aside $5.3 million for sustainable building upgrades this year in the first phase of a massive replacement of out-of-date systems and fixtures across campus.

The renovations will cover buildings like Gelman Library and Lisner Auditorium and largely retrofit existing systems to reduce GW’s energy use and cut costs, Meghan Chapple-Brown, the director of the Office of Sustainability, said.

With more efficient heating and cooling systems and less wasteful water systems, the University will come closer to its goal of cutting carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2025 – a goal outlined in the 2010 Climate Action Plan.

The investment will be repaid within seven years at a rate of about $800,000 a year, and the energy savings will be the equivalent of “removing a large building from GW’s campus, or two large residence halls,” University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said.

The crew began adding eco-friendly amenities to buildings in July, with more rolling out this semester, like motion sensor lights, motors, low-flow toilets, eco-friendly power strips and monitored air conditioning controls. Sherrard said most of the lighting and “simpler projects” will wrap up by December, with work finishing by the end of 2013.

Phase one of the project includes the H Street block between 21 and 22nd streets, and the rest of construction will be planned block-by-block, Chapple-Brown said. The office is still mapping out a timetable for the entire project.

The plan was born out of the Innovation Task Force, a committee that explores cost-cutting and revenue-enhancing strategies across GW. Chapple-Brown said the project raised a question about how to fund retrofitting projects because they do not count as new construction or maintenance like other building projects, but GW ultimately makes up the cost through lower energy bills.

She said the University invested in the project separately from its annual capital and operating budget. Sherrard declined to provide specifics about where the funding came from for the project.

This is the first major project to come out of the partnership between the Office of Sustainability and the Division of Operations, the office that oversees facilities and construction.

The sustainability office also paired with staff at the Division of Information Technology to set up the software and systems to monitor the carbon emission savings, a cooperation that further cut back costs for GW.

Many universities put these types of projects in place through external groups, Chapple-Brown said, paying contractors up to 30 percent of the project cost.

“The advantage we have is that we have the internal expertise because we’ve taken a couple of years to figure it out, so that significantly reduces our cost. We don’t have to hire somebody to do it,“ she said.

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