Sustainable Campus Master Planning Concepts for Higher Education

Higher education institutions, faced by rising financial pressures and fluctuating enrollment, continue to seek ways to reduce operating costs while improving on educational delivery. Trained to problem-solve, architects can help leverage sustainable master planning skills and guide colleges and universities toward more energy and cost efficient campus operation.

Legat Architects draws from our planning experiences in the Midwest to share ways that higher education is planning for long-term energy use reduction. The result: colleges and universities have more funding available for education.

Planning for the College of Lake County

In Grayslake, IL, the College of Lake County’s high-performing Science and Engineering Building was conceptualized during the sustainable campus master planning process. Now under construction, the facility was designed to achieve LEED-NC Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. Extensive energy modeling, daylighting studies and photovoltaics on the roof help reduce predicted energy use intensity (pEUI) by 67 percent compared to a baseline building of similar use.

“Campus master plans are no longer just about assessing academic needs and capital improvements,” says Jeffrey Sronkoski, principal and director of Legat’s Higher Education practice. “We are integrating concepts, like deep energy efficiency and renewable energy, to provide clients with practical measures that will result in long-term cost savings.”

A Geothermal Greenway

Located in Joliet, IL, Joliet Junior College, the nation’s first two-year higher education institution, completed its sustainable master plan in 2008. To showcase institutional commitment to sustainability, the college’s main campus has added six new facilities, all designed for high-energy efficiency and various levels of LEED certification. While the campus footprint nearly doubled due to expansion, the overall energy use per square foot was reduced, with an equal drop in annual energy expenditure.

The college’s new LEED Gold-certified Campus Center features extensive daylight and views, as well as a “geothermal greenway” that helps reduce energy needs of the facility.

Vuk Vujovic, Legat’s vice president and director of sustainability & energy, says, “Tracking energy data, carbon emissions and energy-related spending gives us direct feedback on how building design and campus operations can be improved. The goal is to figure out how to redirect available funds from paying utility bills to funding academic programs, then apply that knowledge on other campuses.”

Such knowledge has inspired a new wave of higher education buildings designed to educate, perform and cool:

  • Designed to Educate: Interactive building signage can be used to showcase installed green technologies and to teach building occupants about the impact they have on building energy efficiency. Vujovic says, “Changing the institutional culture is the most effective way to achieve deep energy efficiency on any campus.” For instance, signs at Joliet Junior College’s Campus Center point at daylight harvesting and a geothermal well system that help reduce building energy needs. Even as one approaches the campus’s new “front door,” the site’s geothermal “greenway” is a sign to the community of the college’s commitment to sustainability.
  • Designed to Perform: To be effective, sustainability goals and future energy needs assessment are integrated straight into the facilities master plan. The College of Lake County’s vision included a bold 10-year sustainable master plan targeting systematic reduction of energy use on campus. Sronkoski says, “A campus-wide geothermal field and loop, LED lighting and high-efficiency mechanical and electrical systems were considered at the very beginning of our planning process.”
  • Designed to Cool: The next level of sustainable campus master planning focuses on climate action, systematic reduction of institutional carbon footprint and increased resiliency. Vujovic said, “This is a great opportunity to demonstrate the institution’s leadership in sustainability, since the climate commitment is typically signed by the college’s or the university’s president.

Improved Resilience Preps for Future Challenges

A recent third-party master plan for Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, IL, included a special climate action plan component. Vujovic says, “It showed great foresight and leadership by the college’s president to consider addressing climate action and resiliency in addition to traditional master planning.

The climate action plan built into Moraine Valley Community College’s campus master plan helps the institution prepare for improved efficiency as well as dealing with possible external challenges to its campus operations.

A variety of factors beyond the institution’s control can impede the consistent delivery of its educational programs. What happens, for instance, when a storm causes a regional power outage? Or what if a state reaches a budget impasse?

Adding resilience into sustainable campus plans helps prepare colleges and universities for such possibilities. The institution then has strategies to protect it from outside influences that might threaten the college’s ability to deliver quality education.

Sronkoski sums it up: “We are seeing increased client interest in climate action and resiliency in higher education, so there is a greater need to improve our profession’s understanding of these issues.”

About the Author

Douglas J. Ogurek, LEED AP BD+C, is communications manager for Legat Architects.