GCC Looks at Proposal to Upgrade Environmentally

El Vaquero Editor-in-Chief

A committee composed of faculty and local environmental groups is calling for energy-conserving upgrades on campus. However, according to Mike Allen, a math professor and one of the advocates for the improvements, Vice President of Administrative Services Larry Serot is trying to impede or slow down those efforts.

In October, Allen presented a proposal to the Board of Trustees to adopt sustainable construction or “green building.”

Sustainable construction is designed to enhance environmental protections through such energy efficient features as dual-paned window glass, recyclable carpeting and non-toxic paint.

“You look not only at your building, but at the materials you’ve used,” said Serot.

Allen, with the support of environmental groups including Global Green, Coalition for Clean Air and Greenpeace, wants to push GCC towards constructing all “new buildings to meet standards for reducing their impact on the environment.”

According to Allen, the new facilities should be built according to guidelines developed by the United States Green Building Council, known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
Allen and his colleagues were inspired by the model of LACC, which recently adopted environmental standards for its campuses. Similar measures are supported by the local Sierra Club, the GCC Guild, the Classified State Employee Association, the Academic Senate and other faculty members, including Interim Executive Vice President of Instructional Services Steve White and physics professor Jean Lecuyer, who has chaired the master plan committee on campus.

According to the Green Building Council, the LEED standards include four levels: certificate, silver, gold and platinum, with platinum being the highest level of environmental-friendly design. All levels considered more “environmentally safe” than what the law requires.

Right now, GCC hopes to meet silver standards. According to Allen, reaching that level could make construction costs one to five percent more expensive. However, it could save the school 30 to 40 percent per year in energy costs.

Standards for the “silver” level are set by the Green Building Council, which awards points for the use of double-paned windows, water-efficient plumbing, solar panels and energy-efficient heating systems. The points GCC receives would depend on what the school does to earn points, whether through an underground heating system or recyclable carpeting or other measures.

“We have taken the proposal to Campus Development,” said Serot, adding that the Board of Trustees had received Allen’s proposal but agreed to explore the issue further and take it to Campus Development. This committee deals with construction or remodeling of facilities on campus by making recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

Its next meeting is scheduled for January.

However, according to Allen, Campus Development has heard the issue twice and was ready to vote on it at its last meeting, but Serot believed the environmental groups involved (above mentioned) did not know enough and had not heard his counter-argument to the proposal.

“They were ready to vote,” said Allen, “but Serot said ‘No.'”

“I suggested we wait until the January meeting,” said Serot, who denied he kept the committee from voting. “I said we first need to understand the ramifications of what a LEED building is.”

Serot’s counter-argument involves two main points. He first explained that he wants to make sure that the original scope of the projects to be constructed in the future take priority over “green building,” meaning that the plans are not modified just to include sustainable construction. Secondly, Serot explained that he wants to allocate a “fixed pot” to bring the buildings up to environmental standards and make sure that the school stays within that budget.

Allen said his proposal was originally on the agenda at Monday’s Board of Trustees meeting, but he was taken off the agenda.

“Someone in administration decided to take us off,” said Allen. “I am 99 percent sure it’s Serot. He doesn’t want this to pass. He’s dragging it out so maybe people will forget about it.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said Serot. “I didn’t go over there and say pull this. He’s wrong if he say’s that I’m against it.”

Technically, Campus Development does not need to approve the proposal, it is up to the college board, but the school likes to gain the approval on committees on campus when taking issues before the board. This is part of the governance process.

“My feeling is that this needs to go through the governance process,” said Serot, which includes a formal proposal to Campus Development. “This is not cheap, it’s going to be costly. We need to have people willing to commit to the project.”

Serot said Allen voiced his opinion on the issue at the first Campus Development meeting he attended. At a second meeting, Allen provided the committee with a resolution. Serot believes that more information still needs to be presented, thus he is planning to invite representatives from the involved environmental groups along with Allen and the board to the next Campus Development meeting in order to understand exactly what LEED standards are.

“I don’t have a problem with taking the proposal to Campus Development,” said Allen, “but I do have a problem with Serot not allowing Campus Development to vote. When Serot wants something passed, he bypasses the budget committee and goes straight to the board, but when something like this comes along that he doesn’t agree with, all of a sudden we have to go through all the procedures step by step. He doesn’t want any presentations [to go to the board] that aren’t filtered through him first.”

“There was no consensus at Campus Development on this issue,” said Serot. “The student legislature was against it. I believe there is more information to be presented.”

Serot said that the first building to be effected by this will not be funded for three to four years, and that therefore there is no hurry to vote on the issue. “We have time to understand what these [groups] are looking, to understand the LEED proposal.

“In order to be environmentally correct you need to change people’s attitudes. We need to have people buy into it.”

According to Serot, with the passage of Proposition 47, the $6 million set aside from Measure G for the Allied Health/Aviation Building is now surplus money.

“The money used to upgrade new campus facilities to LEED standards could come from these funds, but it’s still too early to tell,” said Serot.

“My concern is to ensure that we not jeopardize any of our other projects by doing the sustainable construction,” said Serot. He is also afraid that he may not be able to provide enough for a silver certificate and does not want the board to approve the proposal unless he is able to guarantee them that much.

“This is better for the environment,” said Allen. “If we don’t build to these standards, we’ll be wasting more energy and more money.”

“Allen is an advocate,” said Serot. “He is very passionate, but I’m not sure if everyone else is in agreement.”