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Larry Eisenberg, Executive Director of Facilities Planning for the Los Angeles Community Colleges District.


LACCD's Cutting-Edge Building Program

by Racquel Palmese

When it comes to facing environmental challenges California is the land of big ideas. From the Governor's Million Solar Roofs initiative to cities' and counties' far-reaching climate change mandates, the bar has been set high and is constantly rising. One of the most ambitious undertakings is happening in Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Community College District is modernizing its nine colleges through its $6 billion Sustainable Building Program.

The LACCD's building program is among the nation's largest environmentally friendly projects.  Its building techniques and practices strive to save water, limit air pollution, emphasize the use of recycled materials and train tomorrow's green workforce. 

A combination of cutting-edge technology and tried and true alternative energy sources are being employed. Solar panels are appearing on parking structures and buildings. Also being used is drought-tolerant landscaping, energy-efficient lighting and carpeting made from recycled materials.

Growing the Program

It all began with a series of bond issues. In 2001, LACCD got a $1.245 billion bond passed to fund construction and renovation. At that time, the Board of Trustees decided to make a commitment to sustainability. The result: the District is putting up nearly 90 new buildings that will meet at least the basic green building certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system.

In 2003, a $2.2 billion bond measure passed and in 2008 voters approved a $3.5 billion measure for construction projects on the nine campuses. Larry Eisenberg, LACCD's executive director of facilities planning and development, is managing the District's construction program. Among the Sustainable Building Program's goals is reducing the district's utility bills. "We want to set a good example that will spur other institutions and individuals to tap the vast potential of renewable energy.  What we're doing squares perfectly with the Obama administration's efforts to fight climate change and with the landmark climate-change bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in late June."

Eisenberg joined LACCD in 2003. "I've been in sustainability most of my career," he says, "but I had no idea how much that commitment to sustainability was going to mean when I took this job. I pinch myself every day and ask myself,
'how did I get here?' All of a sudden I have the money and a lot of smart people to work with to make all this possible." 

The goal of the trustees, Eisenberg says, goes beyond a commitment to the many local and small businesses that are working on the construction project. "We wanted to share the wealth. The taxpayers of Los Angeles are paying for all this, so it returns value to the community as well. It's fun. I love each day, can't wait to get up in the morning."

Expanding Horizons

The multi-faceted project has generated international interest. Eisenberg and Dr. Woodrow Clark II, LACCD's energy director, spend a great deal of time speaking about the district's program. Clark, co-author of the book, Agile Energy Systems, Global Lessons from the California Energy Crisis, came to LACCD to help develop the Sustainable Building Program after a stint as Governor Gray Davis' renewable energy advisor. He realized that while LEED certifies individual buildings, there were other aspects to consider.

"What we're dealing with is clusters of buildings," he explains. "I saw a pattern of this when I was working at the state level with shopping malls, walking streets, office building complexes. These are all similar to college campuses. We need to start thinking about more agile systems, not just grid-connected ones, but those with onsite power systems." (An "agile system" means having a central plant providing power to a cluster of buildings, such as a community college, but also having power being generated on several of the buildings within the cluster. This demands less power from the grid.)

Additionally, says Clark, LACCD is now part of the Climate Registry, which was formed in 1999 as the California Climate Registry and is now a global initiative. The Registry calls for benchmarking energy and fuel use in order to show reductions in a building's carbon footprint through the use of renewable energy, new technologies and better control over a building's efficiency. All nine colleges have been registered since 2004.

The District's program involves a three-part strategy. The first involves installing highly efficient central plants. Echoing Clark's agile system idea, Eisenberg says, "The best way to do energy is to distribute it across the campus environment. The fun thing about central plants is that there has been a strange new mix of equipment and technology. Each of our central plants' roofs will be covered with solar heat tubes, the next generation of making solar hot water. These are configured as a vacuum environment, which makes the water very hot, almost the temperature of steam. You bring that into the central plant and you can make hot water through a heat exchanger. As it cools you can capture it and make chilled water out of it also and distribute it across the college. It's a sustainably based technology, a great, cost effective thing."

In the second part of the strategy, every energy consuming item within all district facilities will be looked at for demand management and retrofitting. Says Eisenberg, "We want to squeeze out every single watt and every single therm that we can."  All energy consuming items, from light bulbs to pumps, will be analyzed and changed out to achieve maximum energy savings. Occupancy sensors will be installed.

The third part is what Eisenberg calls "the really exciting part, the one that not many people are doing yet."

"We already take good advantage of the Southern California sunshine to produce electricity with photovoltaic panels and to run solar thermal heating and cooling systems. And, no doubt, the bulk of our renewable energy will come that way. Still, some other key technologies for power storage and generation are in the early stages, and it's not clear how far we can affordably go with them in the near future. Even if we don't make extensive use of some of these technologies, we probably will set up demonstration projects highlighting other forms of renewable energy to teach and inspire our students. We could demonstrate wind technology, for example."

Although the District is no longer talking about "going off the grid" -- cutting links to local power utilities -- Eisenberg hasn't given up on pursuing energy independence. "Unless you set an ambitious goal, you don't make progress. I believe that if we push to do our best, we can achieve energy independence. But I acknowledge that many people I talk to, both inside and outside of our program doubt that we can get all of the way there in the foreseeable future."

"Even if we wind up generating only, say, one-third or one-half of our energy needs, that still will reduce our utility bills, and point the way to a more environmentally sustainable future," he said.

There are the buildings, and then there is what goes into the buildings things like furniture and carpets. These are another source of bold experimentation at LACCD, which developed its own specs and requirements for procuring them. With more than $100 million allocated for furniture alone, the District put out a bulk bid that called for every piece to be sustainable, 100 percent recyclable. "We needed vendors to change their processes, to, for example, take the chrome out of furniture," said Eisenberg. When the bid first came out only two manufacturers qualified; today several others have joined them.

The size of the LACCD project is sufficient to inspire change among manufacturers. The District standard for carpeting was that it would have to last 30 years. The standard asked for 40 percent recycled material in the carpet itself, not just the backing, which is where most recycled material has been put. Two manufacturers competed and both were ready to adapt their operations to meet the standard. One of them, Tandus, won the low bid and did change their factory. The product they produce has backing that is 100 percent recycled material and a face that is 40 percent recycled. Beyond this, the new product itself is 100 percent recyclable. The price? Less than $15 a yard, about half the market price for a comparable product. To expand access to these new sustainable products, the district made the furniture and carpet contracts "piggybackable," meaning that any public entity can order under these contracts and get the same prices and quality.

Campuses as Learning Opportunities

The events at LACCD offer a powerful example of the fact that an energy revolution is unfolding, one in which onsite energy production is occurring.

This transformation is forcing a rethinking and a retooling of the workforce. "You'll need someone who can install the panels, the suitcase batteries, to help you do the maintenance," says Eisenberg. "We're going to teach people how to do that."  

LACCD's commitment to implementing cutting-edge technologies in its building program offers students a unique opportunity to study in a "living laboratory," and creates opportunities for valuable hands-on experiences to be incorporated into its green jobs curriculum.

"There's a whole new range of jobs," he continues, "and we need to teach people how to do them. The remarkable work we're doing with sustainability means that we can do things for fundamental change locally, and they carry forward to the state and even nationally and internationally. There's so much visibility that we have a chance to do things others wouldn't do in a million years."

To Dr. Clark, the most powerful aspect of the work may be the chance to demonstrate that it's possible to have plenty of energy and power that is environmentally friendly and non-polluting. "It's good for our society, for our health and for our planet," he says.

"It's also cost effective," he adds. With the fluctuating price of oil, "we're talking about taking control over energy costs. And even more significantly, we won't have to go to war over the wind or the sun."


On the Cutting Edge
An LACCD Slideshow
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