What will new college buildings look like in the technology-mad early 21st century?
Maybe not as space-agey as you think. As envisioned by the leaders of the Los Angeles Community College District, cutting-edge and environmentally friendly campus architecture will embody about as much old-fashioned practicality as high-tech gadgetry.
A plan approved 7 to 0 on Wednesday by the district's Board of Trustees to guide the use of $1.2 billion in school-bond funds for 40 to 50 new buildings encourages such design wizardry as:
Windows that actually open and close.
Trees that shade buildings and help keep them cool.
Roofing made from light-reflecting recycled materials--including old toilet bowls and sinks.
"A lot of it is common sense. But a lot of our campuses are so old that common sense is visionary," said Kelly Candaele, a trustee of the nine-campus college district.
Even if some of the proposed techniques sound old hat, the district already is winning praise from many environmentalists for its "sustainable building," or "green building," plan.
The design specifics have yet to be spelled out for the new buildings, which will be financed with the $1.2 billion from Proposition A, passed by voters last year.
But the planned approach reflects the nation's "sustainable community" movement, with its emphasis on conserving resources and placing as gentle a burden as possible on the environment. The aim also is to ensure that new buildings provide healthy workplaces, free of such ills as indoor air pollution.
Construction is expected to start next year on the first batch of projects, which most likely will include a media arts building and library at Valley College in Valley Glen.
Among the other Proposition A projects destined for San Fernando Valley campuses are a technology center, a student store and a building for science, agriculture and nursing at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, as well as a parking structure, a fitness center and an expanded student services building at Mission College in Sylmar.
Peter Templeton, a project manager for the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit group that certifies buildings meeting key environmental standards, called the community college district's plan perhaps the most environmentally ambitious by any higher education system in the country.
If a room needs to be cooled, there will be options besides turning on electricity-gobbling air conditioners. You could just open a window--or, in a concession to high-tech, windows might automatically open when temperatures hit a certain level.
Also, to save precious water, more athletic fields might be covered with artificial turf, and landscaping would feature drought-resistant plants. Meanwhile, restrictions on the use of paints that emit toxic fumes would be tightened.
In approving the sustainable-building plan, trustees "are voting to give students a healthier learning environment and to save taxpayer dollars in lower energy costs in the long term," said Matt Petersen, president of Global Green U.S.A., a Los Angeles-based environmental group.
But not everyone is ready to embrace the plan. One touchy point is that the standards in the plan are expected to raise construction costs an estimated 8% to 10%.
That, in turn, may mean that voters won't be getting as many buildings as they anticipated when they approved Proposition A, said Kris Vosburgh, executive director of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. The district, he said, "may be skating on very thin legal ice."
On the other hand, district trustee Nancy Pearlman, a longtime environmental activist, said she doesn't think the district's plan goes far enough. For instance, she would like it to do more to ensure that new buildings are made with recycled materials. "I want to be sure we're not cutting down the rain forest," she said.
District Chancellor Marshall "Mark" Drummond defends the use of taxpayer money for sustainable-building standards on two grounds. For one thing, he said, voters were never promised that a specific number of buildings would be put up with funds from Proposition A.
Secondly, he said, the savings from sustainable buildings that use less electricity and water would enable the district to recover the extra construction expenses in five to seven years. Assuming most buildings will have a life span of about 30 years, he said, "you've got 23 years of good news, because you're saving money all of those years."