Here is something you may not know about Residential and Dining Services at The Evergreen State College – they are the only student maintenance organization in the country that employs its students as project managers. Joe Martino, a project manager at RAD Sustainability, explained how environmental sustainability began to become a serious consideration of businesses in the ‘70s, during the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ Countries’ embargo of oil with the United States. After the embargo ended, Martino said that interest in sustainable systems died down, and never resurfaced to the same levels since.
“Nobody has sat down and said, ‘let’s take the software model that says this works, and put it into the field and prove it,’” Martino said. “That is something we are trying to do here, and something we are trying to get students engaged in as much as possible.”
One of Martino’s current projects is a solar and aquaponic greenhouse, which is being built outside the Housing Community Center (HCC) and behind the on-campus apartments.
At the moment, Martino said he plans for the greenhouse to be a demonstration model, as opposed to a production model, due to the many food safety standards and regulations the Food and Drug Administration would place on the greenhouse.
“As far as any of us know…. that is the only
compost heated dormitory in the country.”
– Mark Allmand
“At a certain point, that would take away the learning opportunity this can provide,” he said. Instead, he said plans for any food grown in the greenhouse to be donated to the food bank satellite on campus on Tuesdays, hosted by the Center for Community Based Learning (CCBLA).
“There are significantly less restrictions with donation food, than selling food and serving food,” said Mark Allmand, another RAD Sustainability project manager. “We get to help a hundred people, and it would be pretty great to have a volume of fresh produce and even fish to give there.” The greenhouse would be open to campus tours and various programs. Martino said he also plans to open the greenhouse to the Evergreen childcare center, “to make this something that the kids can look at and participate in.”
Behind modular apartment 311 sits an 8-foot-tall pile of hay – this is RAD Sustainability’s compost heat recovery system, or “the pile”, for short.
The pile is made of sawdust, pine shavings and horse manure, all encased in a dome of haystacks. Over 900 feet of plastic tubing is coiled inside the hay, where water is pumped through. The decomposition of the manure and plant detritus heats the water, which runs back through the apartment.
“When you build a pile this big, the heat lasts for quite a few months,” said Allmand. “Ideally, these piles will be 140 degrees when you first build them, and then they slowly decline after that. We get a years worth of heat out of this pile.”
The hot water is used in the mod apartment for their radiant in-floor heating, flowing through tubes under the floor of the apartment to heat it up.
“As far as any of us know, including the compost heat recovery expert from Vermont that came up to help us build the pile, that it is the only compost heated dormitory in the country,” Allmand said. According to Allmand and Martino, it was difficult to get the permission from the county building officials to build the pile.
“The permitting process is arduous, in general,” said Martino. “But if you are working on something that has never been done before, it is especially difficult because there are no guidelines.”
Connected to the modular apartment 303 are two different solar panels – a flat plate collector and an evacuated tube collector. RAD Sustainability’s goal is to compare the two photovoltaic systems, to see which is more efficient at converting solar power into energy that can be used to heat the apartment.
Allmand commented on how there is a myth surrounding solar power and how it is less effective in western Washington, due to our lack of strong sunlight for the majority of the year.
“There are some problems – we don’t get as much light like a lot of other places,” he said. “But the highest per-capita usage of solar panels is in Germany, and they have an almost-identical climate to the Pacific Northwest.”
In 2013, Germany had around 400 megawatts of solar power per one million people, reported Treehugger.com writer Michael Graham Richard. The United States only had about 25 megawatts of solar power per one million people, putting it in 20th place worldwide.
How to Get Involved
RAD Sustainability began the process of creating a new student group, called Evergreen Stewards. Their first meeting will be on Thursday, Jan. 16, at 1:30 p.m. in the conference room on the third floor of the College Activities Building.
“The projects will come from what involved students want to work on,” said Allmand. “First, we will be tasked with setting up maintenance plans for all of our gardens on campus. But there is endless potential for project management opportunities for students, and it is all themed around campus management and beautification.”
RAD Sustainability has several other projects and tasks set ahead of them, including revamping the courtyard in the middle of A, B, C and D dorms, experimenting in The Lab (an aquaponics testing site below C Dorm), and putting up additional solar panels in the summer.
“The people that come through here leave knowing how to do a lot,” said Martino. “I can leave here and build a house in the middle of nowhere. We are learning trades.”
Volunteers can also check in at the RAD Office (also known as the Mod Shop) in the modular apartment complex.
You can also check out what RAD Sustainability is up to by checking their blog, RAD Times, at http://radtimesonline.blogspot.com.