Long Island college campuses 'greener' than ever

Rob Musmacher and T.J. Myronowsky of Mercury Solar Rob Musmacher and T.J. Myronowsky of Mercury Solar Systems install solar panels on the roof of Adelphi University's Swirbul Library. (Aug. 25, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

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From the solar roof installed last week on Adelphi University's library to Nassau Community College's $40 million Life Sciences Building being constructed from recycled materials, Long Island's college campuses are going green.

The most important changes, administrators say, are taking place inside these energy-efficient structures, as colleges introduce environmental courses at a dizzying rate. This year, Molloy and Farmingdale State colleges are starting minors in sustainability featuring courses meant to help small businesses become more environmentally efficient.

It's part of a nationwide trend sweeping campuses from religious academies to the Ivy League, and taps into President Barack Obama's call to prepare Americans for green jobs. Colleges are adding environmental sustainability classes and activities at a rate of more than 50 per week, a national study found. Schools say a "green" curriculum not only attracts students, it also prepares many for careers in emerging fields such as installing wind turbines.

Molloy sees an added benefit: Emphasizing the ecological echoes the school's Dominican heritage, which calls on humans to be good stewards of the environment.

"Profits are a good goal, but we also have to watch out for the planet and the people," said Neil Lewis, the environmental activist who heads Molloy's Sustainability Institute.

Enlisting experts

One ambitious local effort is this year's launch of the Sustainability Program at Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. In its search for housing and transportation with less environmental impact, the program will enlist experts on everything from sociology to physics.

"We're ending the old silo approach that separates academic disciplines," said Larry Levy, the center's executive director.

Most local colleges started green efforts modestly. Molloy used "green" cleaning products, stopped spraying herbicides and invested several thousand dollars in LED Christmas lights expected to pay for themselves in electricity savings within two years.

Last year, Molloy started its Sustainability Institute and this year broke ground on the Public Square, a 57,000-square-foot student center and theater. The school hopes it will qualify as a LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, building. That's the coveted certification by the U.S. Green Building Council, a group that ranks building in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

'LEED' all the buzz

As students return to local schools this week, "LEED" is a campus buzzword. Nassau Community hopes its Life Sciences Building, which will use recycled copper and take advantage of natural light and landscaping to reduce heating and cooling, will receive LEED designation.

Last year, Suffolk County Community College opened its 18,000-square-foot Workforce Development and Technology Center, another LEED building. Along with traditional courses in heating and air conditioning, instructors also teach renewable energy classes.

At Stony Brook University, two dorms opened last week that use locally-made materials and solar panels; three other buildings under construction include photovoltaic panels for electricity production.

Stony Brook has touted its sustainability program on its Southampton campus, including a library with geothermal heating and cooling - the first LEED-certified library in the SUNY system. The campus attracted record applicants this year, but was essentially shut in May and moved to the main campus due to a budget crunch.

Farmingdale, a green pioneer that reduces its energy costs with a solar panel array and touts its fleet of electric/flex fuel campus vehicles, is establishing a Green Building Institute whose mission is to reduce or eliminate the negative impact of structures on the environment.

The allure of green

Students say they find green programs alluring. Daniel Santiago, 25, graduated this spring from Farmingdale. He had an internship with Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he researched fuel cells, which someday might replace batteries in cell phones and other devices. "The area is so much more rewarding than mechanical engineering," Santiago said, "because I feel like I'm involved with a field that might help us manage our waste, help industry and create jobs."

One of those new jobs is his own. He has been hired to continue his research.

Back to College: 2010-2011

19.1 MILLION: Projected number of students enrolled in the nation's colleges and universities this fall, up from 13.8 million 20 years ago.

16: Percentage of all college students 35 and older in October 2008. They made up 36 percent of those attending school part time.

49: Percentage of 18- and 19-year-olds enrolled in college in 2008.

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55: Percentage of college students who were women in October 2008.

$14,915: Average tuition, room and board (for in-state students) at the nation's four-year public colleges and universities for an academic year (2007-08). That was more than double the cost in 1990.

$40,640: Average tuition, room and board at the nation's four-year private colleges and universities for one academic year (2007-08). That also was more than double the 1990 figure.

Sources: SCHOOL ENROLLMENT - SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CHARACTERISTICS OF STUDENTS: OCTOBER 2008;

STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES: 2010

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