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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Bricks and Mortar

October 16, 2012


The U of M maintains nearly 30 million square feet of building space. The Science Teaching and Student Services (STSS) building shown here is one of the most efficient buildings on the Twin Cities campus.

By Adam Overland, with Chris Kelleher

The bricks and mortar structure of a university—the physical space where students get their education, faculty conduct research, knowledge is created and diseases are cured—is big. You might wonder just what kind of space all that education and research takes at one of the top five largest public universities in the United States. A comparison may help: The U of M maintains a space about seven times the size of the Mall of America—29.3 million square feet (22.6 million on the UMTC campus). Like your buildings measured in sport facilities? That's about 70 Metrodomes.

It takes a lot of energy, equipment, and money to keep those buildings humming. The average yearly energy bill for the UMTC campus alone is about $50 million. With higher education hyper-focused on finding savings that it can reinvest in its core mission—research, academics, outreach—Facilities Management (FM) has and will continue to play an important, if behind-the-scenes role, in supporting a quality education. And they're finding big savings.

Looking to the future

The U's Minneapolis campus anticipates a heating, cooling, and electricity capacity shortage beginning in 2015 due to increasing demand and aging equipment. In its 2012 Capitol Request to the State Legislature, the U requested $54 million to renovate a decommissioned building for use as a Combined Heat and Power Plant that would reduce the UMTC carbon footprint by 10 percent, and save nearly $2 million annually.

Sustainable economics
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities conservation campaign "It All Adds Up" is one example of the U's commitment to leave no stone unturned.

President Kaler has called it "Operational Excellence," but here it might well be a synonym for "sustainability."

Designed to enlist the campus community's help in lowering energy consumption, the campaign aims to reduce waste by asking students, faculty, and staff to commit to energy saving and waste reducing behaviors. And when that happens, says Mike Berthelsen, associate VP of Facilities Management, colleges and academics benefit.

"When FM saves or avoids costs, colleges reduce their square foot costs for the space they occupy, and in the case of energy savings, it's money they don't have to spend and can redirect into their programs," he says.

FM launched the campaign in 2009 by setting a five percent energy reduction goal for 2010. That goal was reached three months early. Total annual energy costs avoided so far amount to $5.6 million (50,000 fewer tons of CO2) with $1 million of that found since July 2011. An additional $2.3 million in projects have been identified and are awaiting implementation.

An old Cadillac
The savings have come from a mix of aggressive strategies, and they haven't come easily. One example is the "recommissioning" of a building. There are 163 buildings on the UMTC Minneapolis campus alone. Just as a mechanic can improve a car's fuel economy with a tune-up, a recommissioning team improves a building's energy efficiency by putting it back into the condition it was designed to operate in, and by finding ways that new technology or different operating methods can further improve efficiency.

With a typical recommissioning yielding between 5 and 15 percent energy savings, it's worth every penny, so the U runs an aggressive strategy with two full-time engineers dedicated to the task. Just a couple of examples: since Keller Hall was recommissioned in August of 2010, it's now operating at a $168,000 annual cost avoidance; Tate Lab of Physics, completed in March 2012, is avoiding $38,000 per year. Savings will continue to grow as more buildings are recommissioned and the campus community alters its energy use. Recycling plays a part, too.

By the numbers

The U maintains a space about 7 times the size of the Mall of America—29.3M sq. feet (22.6M on the TC campus).

There are 163 buildings on the UMTC Minneapolis campus alone.

The average yearly energy bill for the TC campus is about $50M.

The "It All Adds Up" campaign is helping to save $5.6 million in annual energy costs (50,000 fewer tons of CO2).

Trash bill
The U's Twin Cities trash bill is about $632,000 per year—$12,000 a week. But were it not for an admirable recycling program the costs would be much higher. Currently, about 41 percent of all UTMC campus waste is recycled, but that number could be higher, as many recyclables continue to be placed in trash containers. It's estimated that about 55 percent of regular trash is recyclable.

At today's rates, says Dana Donatucci, director of the U's recycling program, going from a 41 percent to a 50 percent recycling rate would reduce the U's trash bill by about $94,000. The challenge is getting the campus community to be more diligent about placing recyclables in proper containers.

Conservation Madness
Students are playing a part, too. The office of Housing & Residential Life teamed up with Facilities Management to create the Conservation Madness recycling and energy reduction competition among students in residence halls. The contest rewarded the hall that reduced its electricity use and waste by the largest percentage and recycled the most during a two-week period. In 2012, Territorial edged out Yudof Hall to reduce its energy consumption by 4.4 percent—good for first place. Frontier Hall was first in recycling with a 22.5 percent increase.

If all residence halls conserved resources over the course of an entire year at the same rate as the top-ranking residence halls, it would save more than $120,000 annually.

In the fall of 2012, Conservation Madness became part of the brand new "Live Green Games." This year-round competition educates residents about how to live more sustainably and make a lasting impact on resource conservation. Monthly sustainability education programming will be offered, for which residents can earn participation points that will add to their residence hall's Live Green Games points bank.

Tags: All administrative: President, Provost, etc.

Related Links

It All Adds Up

Facilities Management Success Stories

Sustainable Campus

Environment and Sustainability