Kalamazoo, MI
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Student Auditors Work Towards Green Gym

Ogden Wright K’16 and Michelle Sugimoto K’17 are nearing the end of a yearlong process of ensuring that the new Fitness and Wellness Center is built as environmentally conscious as possible. Last year, Wright and Sugimoto were hired as student auditors to oversee the construction, making sure that the building would qualify for the Silver Level certification by the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) program.

Last year, Kalamazoo College Climate Action Network (KCCAN) organized a petition in an effort to make the construction of the new gym LEED certified. LEED is a certification program that employs a rating system for construction and operation of buildings, ensuring that they are as eco-friendly as possible. Although the College chose not to pursue the LEED program for this building, Wright and Sugimoto have the job replicating the LEED system, so that the building would qualify for certification had that route been chosen.

“Our positions were set up to show that the school is being held accountable,” Sugimoto said.

Wright states that the LEED program is “incredibly bureaucratic” and “very overwhelming.” Had the school chosen to employ LEED, they would have had one shot to get everything correct, and had they not the building would have failed to get their Silver Level certification. In addition, LEED is very expensive and the College is saving money from abstaining.

“We would have had to pay to ask [LEED] questions, and it would have taken them months to get back to us,” Wright said. He continued by stating that by not actually using LEED, “we get the babies without all the labor pains.”

To avoid the hardship and the costs, Wright and Sugimoto have been employed to do exactly what LEED would do, but without all the red tape. The two work closely with the construction company, contractors, and interior designers, and have managed to make some eco-friendly changes to the process.

“We’ve gotten them to add more bike racks and a charging station,” Sugimoto said. The charging station can be used on alternative fuel vehicles. A lot of these types of plans were already in place, but it is the job of the student auditors to make sure that the College and the builders follow through with these plans.

There are many different levels of LEED certification, including certified, silver, gold, and platinum. Wright and Sugimoto have been working to ensure that the new gym would qualify for a “silver” rating, which consists of 50-59 points. Every eco-friendly aspect of the building, including bike racks and charging stations, qualifies for one point.

Wright and Sugimoto will eventually have to write up a report explaining why each point was gained, and give a presentation outlining their work with the building.

Sugimoto hopes that those involved in the petitioning for LEED are satisfied with her work. “It would be pretty hard for them to say they don’t like what we’re doing,” she said.

Wright is also glad that they have not had to directly deal with LEED. “The building will have a long lifespan, that’s what’s important to me,” Wright said, “It’s not less green than it would have been.”

The building is set to be open in time for the 2016-17 school year. “It’s being built at a phenomenal rate. It’s beautiful to watch,” Wright said.

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Student Auditors Work Towards Green Gym