How much does it cost to be a model university?

Alice Kemp

Contributing Writer

Students will notice construction around campus within the next couple months as VCU prepares to install photovoltaic panels on various parking garages.

Several plans are currently being reviewed by Virginia Building Code officials and once approved, will begin construction on the N Street parking deck and the Broad Street parking deck.  These projects will provide some electricity for the university.

If everything goes as planned, construction will begin around Christmas break and will finish roughly three months later.

These projects are funded by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and will cost around $3 million.  However, when asked how long it would take for VCU to get the money back from the investment, Director of Sustainability Jacek Ghosh says things get a little fuzzy.

“We don’t have the specific number of years, but longer than the typical return-on-investment the university looks for,” he said.

VCU is willing to spend millions and indulge on a low return on investment in order to set an example and hopefully start a trend that other universities will follow.  The university was recently recognized as an Overall College Sustainability Leader by receiving an A- in the College Sustainability Report Card 2011.

“We are hoping that by doing this, to say yes, it works and to be a model for the community … it’s an important project,” Carl Beckelheimer, energy engineer at VCU, said.  “We feel that it’s worthwhile to go forward with it.”

Another project is also going to be put into action around the same time as the parking deck construction.  This project involves installing solar thermal panels on the Shafer Court Dining Center to heat the water used for cleaning.  Unlike the solar panels installed on the parking decks, this project has a much higher return on investment.  According to Beckelheimer, the solar thermal panels will be able to heat water up to 90 degrees instead of a mere 55 degrees.  This project has a more attractive return on investment.

Despite VCU’s commitment to setting a national trend to reduce the carbon footprint among universities, former VCU student Dana Zaryczny, believes the price is a little high.

“I think it might be a good idea for the most part, but since it’s going to get a while to get all that money back, it’s going to come from the students,” Zaryczny said.  “We’ll be one of the most expensive schools, but we’ll be good for the environment.”

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