By Kirkwood Callahan • Guest Columnist

Haywood County Commissioners on Aug. 16 will conduct a public hearing on a $12 million, 15-year loan request by Haywood Community College. Most of the loan would finance a new creative arts building on the main campus.

Haywood taxpayers would be wise to follow this final chapter in a protracted effort to build a $10.3 million structure whose design symbolizes a faith in green technology. Citizen focus should not only be on the high costs — up to $293 a square foot (* see below), more than double the cost of  replacing a middle school building in the county — but also  the problematic issues the collegiate planners must confront to bring their green aspirations to fruition.

First some background.

In a May 2008 referendum Haywood voters approved a quarter cent sales tax that the sitting county commission had earmarked for capital projects at the college prior to the referendum. Under state law the county is obligated to fund the college’s construction costs. However, state legislators and bureaucrats set construction standards for public colleges that exceed those required of private sector buildings. An example is a 2008 law that requires energy efficiency to exceed code by more than 30 percent. Indoor water consumption efficiency must exceed code by at least 20 percent.    

Every time someone flushes at the ne building, government will be keeping score. Water and energy uses will be verified by metering. (See www.haywood.edu/, click on “About HCC,” click on Creative Arts Building)    

All aspects of the 36,000-square-foot building are affected by the desire to be “green.” A much greater extensive plumbing architecture is required for the reuse of rainwater in lavatories, urinals and sinks, and green technology extends to walls, slabs, roofing, and solar absorption cooling and thermal panels.

I spoke via phone with Mike Nicklas, president of Innovative Design of Raleigh, the building’s architects. Nicklas is an engaging advocate of solar and other green technology. He states that a “life cycle cost analysis” was performed early in the design process. The rainwater re-use systems will have 7 to 8 year pay backs, he says. (see www.innovativedesign.net/ )

Nicklas stakes hopes for great savings on a “solar developer approach” approved recently in a split 6-5 decision by the college’s Board of Trustees. The board also selected FLS Energy for contract negotiations. The objective is to have FLS install and maintain the solar thermal heating/cooling system and photovoltaic cells, one source of the building’s power. FLS as a private entity could receive many state and federal credits for solar energy while leasing the system from the college. The designer says the lease payments can be used to buy the system in seven years. He predicts eventual positive cash flow, energy savings of 69 percent, and substantial upfront reduction in constructions costs. Excess power could be sold to utilities.

But it is the certainty of these high front-end costs with future paybacks dependent upon complex contractual relationships that raises great concerns.   Commissioner Kevin Ensley has been the most vocal critic on the Haywood county board. He has pointed repeatedly to the project’s high construction costs, and voiced his willingness to vote against the loan request.

Similar “green” aspirations for academic buildings are not without their critics elsewhere. Last August the Civitas Review (Civitas Institute of Raleigh) published a strong rebuttal to the building of green schools in the state and nation, including its findings that, “Whatever savings accrue, however, are offset by higher building costs.”  

Though conclusions may vary about the cost benefits of green technology, one reality dominates my analysis. Significant financial uncertainties remain in the case of the proposed HCC building. Good green outcomes can not be guaranteed by yet to be demonstrated contractual relationships. The county would be taking great risks to achieve 69 percent energy savings — 39 percent (** see below) more than that required by state law — with design costs of the proposed building close to $1 million.

There is one contractual relationship that is certain — that between the county and the taxpayers who pay HCC’s construction bills. That relationship is under stress. While the 15-year loan may require most if not all of the quarter cent sales tax proceeds, HCC president Dr. Rose Johnson seeks additional county money for capital improvements.

Those who are eager to spend more on HCC should consider the recession battered Haywood taxpayers. Since the passage of the quarter cent sales tax for the college, the state has increased sales tax another full cent so that Haywood citizens now pay a 8 percent rate on most purchases. The state and nation face dire fiscal problems. County commissioners should say no to the loan request and make certain that future construction planning is guided by clear and certain cost guidelines.

Put the Haywood taxpayer first.

(Kirkwood Callahan is retired and lives in Waynesville. He has taught government and public administration at four southern universities. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

* The $293 per square foot calculation is based on total project cost, which includes parking lot construction and demolition of an existing building on the site. It also excludes certain areas of the building that are covered but not heated, such as outdoor kilns, dye and woodworking areas.

** This number includes solar panels, however those are considered optional and are not included in the construction costs. Factoring these out, the building exceeds state standards by 20 percent.

For months, debate surrounding the price tag of a new Creative Arts building on the Haywood Community College campus has largely pitted the county commissioners against the college board.

But now, on the eve of a key public hearing that could make or break the project’s approval, the college board of trustees have emerged narrowly split over one key element of the design.

The building’s design incorporates several green features, from harvesting rain water to buying Energy Star photocopiers. The feature that has landed in the crosshairs of the controversy, though, is an alternative energy technology known as solar thermal.

Charles Boyd, a newcomer to the community college board, said the technology is “too cutting edge” and is so far unproven.

“My concern is, is it going to be an asset rather than a liability?” Boyd said. “If it isn’t foolproof, the community doesn’t need to pick up the liability for that.”

A vote last month by college trustees was 6 to 5 in favor of moving forward with the solar thermal technology.

There are around 30 other solar thermal projects in the nation installing similar technology, though none are fully up and running yet. Nonetheless, Mark Bumgarner, a member of the college board, believes it has been fully vetted and is satisfied it’s a good deal.

Bumgarner pointed out that two of the five who voted against it are new to the college board, having just been appointed by county commissioners this summer.

“They were very, very new on the board and did not have all the facts,” Bumgarner said.

Under the administration of Dr. Rose Johnson, Haywood Community College has hung its hat on sustainability initiatives at all levels, from the teaching curriculum to campus operations.

But when it comes to the solar thermal feature, it’s not merely a prized eco-perk. College leaders say the measure is needed to meet rigorous new state standards for energy efficiency in state buildings.

The building has an above-average energy load due to power-hungry equipment like pottery kilns and woodworking tools. That in turn requires an above-average effort to bring down the square-foot energy consumption to within state levels.

But how far the college must go to meet the mandate continues to be a matter of debate.

“I personally feel we can meet the green standard without going to the extent we are going,” Boyd said. “We are trying to look after taxpayers money. We have to be real frugal.”

But Bumgarner said switching gears and going back to the drawing board at this point could cost more than it would save. The college considered other energy saving measures, and found this one to have the fewest downsides, he said.

The cost of the solar thermal is between $600,00 and $700,000. Even factoring that out of the equation, county commissioners claim the $10.2 million price tag on the new creative arts building is too high. College leaders, meanwhile, claim they have cut costs all they can without starting over completely or compromising core functions of the building.

County commissioners must ultimately agree to the building’s price tag. Money to pay for the new building will come from a special quarter-cent sales tax approved by county voters two years ago for the sole purpose of funding improvements on the HCC campus. The vote was seen as broad public endorsement of the college’s growth.

But county commissioners question the wisdom of devoting nearly all the sales tax revenue for the next 15 years to one project when the needs on campus are great.

The college has already sent the plan out to bid, and the deadline for contractors to respond was this week. Commissioners have been reserving final judgment until the bids came in, but the college won’t be ready to release the lowest bid for at least another week or two.

Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on the loan application for the new Haywood Community College creative arts building will be held before the county commissioners at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16, in the historic courthouse.

What is solar thermal technology?

The sun heats water as it flows through giant collectors. The solar-heated water supplies the building’s hot water needs. It also heats the building by circulating through pipes embedded below the floor, which radiate heat upward into the room.

The more complicated, and cutting edge, aspect of the technology involves using the hot water to cool the building, by using the thermal energy to drive an absorption chiller.

An ongoing debate over the cost of a new building on the Haywood Community College campus lacks a clear resolution, with neither county commissioners nor college leaders budging from their position since the conflict first arose four months ago.

County commissioners claim the $10.2 million price tag on the new creative arts building is too high. College leaders claim they have cut all the costs they can without starting over completely or compromising core functions of the building.

“What’s disappointing is the commissioners have expressed that we want the building costs to come down, but they just keep coming back with the same plan. It’s like they don’t even hear us,” said Commissioner Kevin Ensley.

HCC President Rose Johnson says the college board of trustees went over the design with a fine-tooth comb before bringing it to the county commissioners.

“We had gone through a cost reduction process already, and there was nothing else we could do other than go back and totally redesign the building,” Johnson said.

The college trustees don’t want to do that. But commissioners are questioning whether the trustees have tried hard enough.

“It has always been my experience that an architect can find ways to reduce costs if instructed to do so,” said Commissioner Mark Swanger. “Obviously it is better to be conservative during the design process to keep the costs down, but I have never seen a case where architects couldn’t go back and find savings if instructed to do so.”

Swanger has been intimately involved in the construction of several new schools and county building in his 12 years as an elected leader on the school board and county government.

Terry Gess, chair of the Creative Arts Program at HCC, said it would be a mistake to shortchange the new building. The college has a national reputation for its craft program. Meanwhile, the craft industry has an economic impact of $206 million in Western North Carolina.

Gess said the building will be a showcase for the importance of craft in the region and a source of pride.

“It will maintain Haywood Community College’s place as a leader in the professional craft industry,” Gess said.

Alternative energy under fire

A major sticking point in the debate is over environmental features of the new building. Under Johnson’s leadership, HCC has become a leader in sustainability, from campus operations to course curriculum. Likewise, the new creative arts building incorporates many green features.

Commissioners have repeatedly questioned the cost of those features, in particular the alternative energy components like solar hot water and solar panels.

Johnson told commissioners the technology is needed to meet strict new energy-use mandates for state buildings.

An article in The Mountaineer two weeks ago reported differently, however. The article quoted an associate architect for the project who revealed the building would actually exceed the state’s energy guidelines not just by a little, but by 60 percent. That news caught county commissioners off guard.

“The latest information didn’t dovetail with what I recall being told previously,” Swanger said.

However, there is a logical explanation for the discrepancy, college leaders said.

The building incorporates three alternative energy features. All three together indeed go above and beyond the state mandate.

But one of the three has always been considered optional, namely photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of the building. It indeed isn’t needed to meet the state standard — but it wasn’t included in the $10.2 million cost estimate either, according to the college.

“As for the other two, neither goes far enough to meet the state standard singlehandedly. One is passive energy-saving design throughout the building, like using low-energy appliances and orienting windows away from the summer sun. The other is a solar thermal system for heating, cooling and hot water. Together, they exceed the state standard by 20 percent.

“There was no in between step,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the college explored other energy measures to meet the standard without going over, like geothermal, for example. But the 30 wells needed for geothermal would take up too much land, she said.

The new state standards cap energy use for new buildings based on their size. Since the craft building will house energy heavy trades — from power-hungry woodworking tools to super high temperatures required for pottery kilns and glassblowing stations — the college has an extra challenge to offset the high energy consumption.

How far the college must go depends on the estimated energy use of the building in the first place.

“If the starting point is incorrect, then it can skew the entire project,” Swanger said. “I am afraid they may be exceeding unnecessarily. I would feel much better if I had a third party view of it.”

County commission chairman Kirk Kirkpatrick agreed.

“If they are trying to reach something that is greater than what is required by the state, and it costs additional money, then I don’t think that is necessarily a wise plan,” Kirkpatrick said.

Johnson said the creative arts facility is a semi-industrial building with high-load and specialized features, from air ventilation in the jewelry making studios to the dust collection in the woodworking shops.

“When you analyze the projected cost of the building, it is not more expensive than any other building of its type that is being built in the community college system,” said Johnson. The college has offered up square footage comparisons with five other community college buildings around the state.


What next?

County commissioners must ultimately agree to the building’s price tag, something they haven’t done yet. While commissioners have set the wheels in motion to take out a construction loan, they have stopped short of specifying the loan amount.

Swanger said he won’t make up his mind for sure until he sees bids from contractors.

“I want to see actual numbers,” Swanger said. “I need good accurate information and need to know what I am voting on.”

Commissioners feel like the college could be more forthcoming, laying out costs associated with different stages of construction, on what elements the college board has allegedly cut already and, of course, a clearer picture of the energy initiatives.

“They have produced some answers, but everyone is still rather confused about it,” Kirkpatrick said.

Commissioner Ensley, who is most adamant that costs are too high, voted against the loan application despite the caveat that it doesn’t lock in an amount.

Kirkpatrick said the commissioners did not want to cause controversy with the college.

“Do I want to dictate what the college does? That is not my job,” Kirkpatrick said. “As county commissioners, it is my job to ask questions.”

Kirkpatrick said the due diligence should rest with the college board of trustees, whom he trusts are vetting the plans and looking at the same questions.

“I just want to make sure they second guess themselves on what kind of project they are doing and whether it is the most important thing they need to do,” Kirkpatrick said.

Money to pay for the new building will come from a special quarter-cent sales tax. In a countywide election two years ago, voters approved the special tax for the sole purpose of funding improvements on the HCC campus. The vote was seen as broad public endorsement for the college’s role in the community and willingness among the public to invest in its future.

“We voted for the quarter-cent tax and now let’s use it for its intended purpose,” Adam Thomson, a furniture maker who has taken courses at HCC and has now started his own company, told commissioners during a public comment period at a recent meeting.

“I think I can speak on behalf of all commissioners. We certainly aren’t against the creative arts building,” Kirkpatrick responded.

Commissioners are concerned, however, that the college will burn through the lion’s share of the special tax money on one project. The special tax is enough to cover annual payments on a $12 million loan for 15 years. If the craft building is $10.2 million, it leaves little left over for other projects.

“It is my view the entire campus needs to be considered, not just a flagship building,” Swanger said. “In times when money is tight, you would use up a lot of that money.”

Despite the acclaim of HCC’s craft program, the craft building is literally crumbling and too small.

Johnson said it is the college’s most pressing need and pursuing it is “a very wise decision.”


Want to weigh in?

A public hearing on the loan application for the new Haywood Community College creative arts building will be held before the county commissioners at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 16, in the historic courthouse.

Love it or hate it, mountain vernacular architecture has stubbornly planted its roots in Western North Carolina and shows no signs of abandoning the area.

The style that favors steep pitched roofs, native stonework, timber frame gables and earth-tone colors has manifested itself in homes, schools, police and fire departments, and even chains like Wal-Mart and Wendy’s.

Part of the popularity is fueled simply by aesthetic preference, but in some cases, developers were goaded into adopting the style by towns striving for architectural unity.

Local governments are certainly not exempting themselves from the trend. Testaments to their penchant for the style include Waynesville’s new fire station and town hall, the Lake Junaluska Welcome Center, Jackson County’s new senior center and Cherokee’s new $140 million school.

Like chalets dominate our notion of Switzerland, and sand-colored stucco defines the Southwest, mountain vernacular architecture has grown to become a quintessential look for Western North Carolina.

Though architects agree the style hearkens back to WNC’s early days, they clash on what exactly led to its extensive revival.

 

Where’d it come from?

Plain old common sense gave shape to the mountain-style architecture that cropped up here more than a century ago.

Pitched roofs channeled off rain and snow, while timber beams were hewed from the woods around them and stones were churned up and tossed aside when plowing fields.

“Native stone is what people from past generations would go out and pick up,” said Randy Cunningham, an architect with Waynesville-based Mountain Design.

“They had it. It was at hand. It was free,” said Mib Medford, who sits on the Waynesville community appearance commission. “Availability is what brought it on.”

Mountain-style architecture is probably an original colonial invention, according to Sylva-based architect O’Dell Thompson. It’s neither inspired by Native American techniques nor European architectural traditions, which uses stone a lot more heavily, Thompson said.

Whatever the reason for its initial adoption by WNC settlers, the style has won over a crowd of architects, business owners and residents over the last 20 years.

Now, it’s become nearly impossible to go anywhere without running into stacked stones inspired by the foundations of old farmhouses or timber frames that recall exposed rafters in barns.

“It’s running rampant, that kind of look. It’s everywhere,” said Scott Donald, an architect with Padgett & Freeman Architects who has designed many mountain-style buildings in Cherokee.

Local architects have multiple theories for why that is.

Luis Quevedo at Waynesville-based LQ Design Options, stressed that there was no sudden explosion of mountain-style architecture here. It evolved over time.

Quevedo said it could have been influenced by architecture in the Rocky Mountain region.

“There’s a lot of influence that comes from out West,” said Quevedo, adding that the contemporary version of the style has been popular in the West for a lot longer.

The main difference between the two regions, he said, is that the Southern Appalachian region often incorporates a native barn look.

Thompson agreed, stating that WNC’s mountain architecture isn’t fundamentally different from the kind found in states like Colorado, Idaho, and Montana, which took their cue from the Alps. But the Smoky Mountain brand of mountain architecture is simpler and more understated than all of the above, said Thompson.

According to Donald, the credit for the mountain look historically lies with the East, not the other way around.

“We’d already set the standards here in the East before it went West,” said Donald.

Donald said it’s possible that people who flocked to national parks during vacations caught inspiration from the lodges there. They returned, wanting to craft a similar look for their own homes.

In Thompson’s view, outsiders moving into the area about 20 years ago were primarily responsible for reviving the rustic look.

“When people started discovering the mountains as a place to retire to, they started wanting homes that felt like they belonged,” said Thompson.

Though many architects are fans of mountain-style architecture, not all agree with its proliferation. For example, Donald doesn’t find the style appropriate for the Haywood County jail or Wal-Mart.

“If you just slap a gable onto the front of a Wal-Mart, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Donald. “If you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t just do a piece of it. It suggests something it’s not.”

Architects say there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to create the look.

Quevedo is not exactly a fan of what he calls the “cookie-cutter log homes” he sees in Maggie Valley. He said he prefers a more authentic rustic style.

 

The green connection

Part of the driving force behind that rustic style is the green movement, which encourages using local, sustainable products wherever possible. Many are drawn to the idea of harvesting natural materials to create a mountain look.

Quevedo said he has often used native stone, heavy timber, and even logs as columns or handrails.

Architects can create a very basic mountain look or take it to the extreme, by using tree bark for siding, for example.

“You think of tree bark, that’s what protects the tree for hundreds of years, why not put it on the side of the house?” said Donald.

Natural materials, or at least the natural look, are inseparable from mountain-style architecture, which Donald calls the complete opposite of the “smooth high-tech commercial look.”

Some who opt for the style hunt down and recycle parts from old buildings, for example, to lend a more authentic, traditional appearance for their new construction. Architects have been especially inspired by barn wood.

Local companies have sprung up to cater to their tastes, specializing in buying old barns and extracting materials to use as flooring, siding, railings and columns in new homes, Quevedo said.

Ironically, a lot of stone used to recreate an indigenous look comes from outside the region, according to Cunningham.

No matter the appeal, there are undeniable downsides to using recycled material. Maintenance and cost are two major sticking points.

“Recycled wood and recycled materials are not cheap,” said Quevedo. “You end up spending top dollar sometimes.”

Those who choose to use recycled wood must make sure it is treated properly, and even after everything has been installed, the time to do routine maintenance will come around a lot quicker than if new materials had been used.

Developers must take great care to make sure the building is waterproof, while dwellers must replace mortar between the rocks every 30 to 40 years, Donald said.

Though the actual buildings obviously won’t last forever, most architects seem to shoot for a look that never grows old. Again and again, they said they were concerned with creating something that wasn’t solely “trendy.”

“In my opinion, when you lock into a style, then you’ve locked into something that will go out of style,” said Thompson. “It’s more important for it to be timeless.”

A model home under construction on the Haywood Community College campus is giving construction majors hands-on training in green building techniques.

The demonstration house will take two years to build. It was launched in conjunction with a new green building track within the construction degree.

The green home will not only help students get hands-on experience in green building techniques, but will continue to serve as a model for builders and the public. That lasting impact was one of the primary goals.

“We wanted to build a house that someone could look at and say ‘I might not be able to do all this, but I can do some of it,’” said John Mark Roberts, an instructor for the green building certification.

Roberts has seen lots of inquiries into the green building certificate since its launch this fall. Construction students are excited about the extra skill set that will hopefully set them apart from others in the building industry.

“I think it will be in high demand in the future,” said Trent Burgess, 18. “With all the green stuff coming in, there will be more and more people wanting their houses built green. So I figured I could get a head start on it.”

The green building certificate can be earned as a compliment to HCC’s construction degree, or as a stand-alone program, which appeals to builders already in the profession who want to expand their skills — especially these days.

“Times are slack as you know,” said Al Dinofa, a builder who decided to put his down time in the industry to good use by getting his green building certificate at HCC. “I’m learning a lot of different things.”

Even those who don’t start out drawn to the green building track soon realize its worth.

“All my students are seeing that it is marketable,” said Roberts.

Among them is Colby Stamey, 20, who started out in the regular construction program last year.

“I think it will become useful in the years to come,” Stamey said.

Even those who don’t take the special track will get an extra helping of green building techniques — a direct result of HCC’s campus-wide sustainability focus.

“It is pretty heavily incorporated in our general curriculum,” Roberts said.

Green building is more than the use of eco-friendly materials, although that’s certainly part of it. But it also means disturbing as little land as possible outside the building’s actual footprint and protecting streams from erosion runoff.

Energy is also a big part of the program. Graduates will be versed in geothermal heating and solar technology. Students will be able to perform an energy rating for a house once they’ve built it, including testing for air leaks and giving the buyer an estimated annual energy cost.

The green building demonstration house is funded largely by the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, a research arm of the U.S. Forest Service. Financial support also came from the Janirve Foundation, Progress Energy and Home Trust Bank.

“Building green is certainly going to be a wave of the future,” said N.C. Sen. Joe Sam Queen, D-Waynesville, who attended the September groundbreaking on the green building demonstration house and is an architect. “It’s great to see the community college focus on that. To have a whole new generation of contractors who know best practices, that’s a good thing.”

When Candace Stimson lost her job last winter due to the recession, she seized the opportunity to go back to school and pursue something meaningful.

She wasn’t sure just what that would be, however, until she happened upon a new degree being offered at Haywood Community College. This fall, HCC became the first college or university in the state to offer a degree in low-impact development.

“Right now people are starting to look around and see how important it is to take care of the earth,” said Stimson, 42. “Things are going to get more and more green. We are heading in that direction as a country.”

HCC forged the curriculum from scratch and convinced the state community college system that the field warranted its very own degree.

“We actually developed it from the ground up,” said Chad Bledsoe, vice president of the academic affairs at HCC. “We saw with the changing economy and the green movement, there would be a need for individuals with these skill sets.”

Winning support wasn’t a terribly hard sell, but did make for a teaching moment.

“People at the state level were not aware of low-impact development, so we went through an education process of what kind of career a person with that degree would have,” said Dr. Rose Johnson, president of HCC.

The college had to prove there was a demand in the marketplace for the graduates in the field — and that it rose to the level of a standalone degree. So HCC solicited input from the development industry to help make that point through interviews and roundtables.

The idea for the degree got a strong endorsement across the real estate, development and construction industry. Their input helped refine and shape the curriculum, honing in on the skills new hires touting knowledge in sustainable development should have.

“They were able to give us information about the number of people they would want to employ if we got a program in place and had graduates coming out of it,” Johnson said. “They were so excited about it. We felt like there was a lot of emerging job potential that would cut across many sectors.”

The curriculum scored final approval by the state less than a month before the start of the school year. The new degree has just eight students this fall, but it’s expected to grow.

“We are going to see a statewide draw, and from other states as well,” Bledsoe said.

As graduates filter through the program and into the workplace, they will hopefully influence future development practices throughout the region, Johnson said.

“We want to show how you build without destroying the land and ground you are building on,” Johnson said.

The new degree dovetails with a sustainability push Johnson is spearheading campus wide, from incorporating biodiesel and alternative fuels in automotive classes to installing solar panels on the new craft building that is slated to get under construction next year.

How it started

The low-impact development degree has been in the making for more than three years. It dates back to a sustainable development pilot project pursued jointly by the college, Haywood Waterways Association and Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District. The organizations pooled grant money and expertise to help two developers go the low-impact route.

The pilot helped developers tailor their projects to the mountain terrain, and that allowed them to protect the environment while maximizing profit.

Some poorly planned developments have left an unfortunate mark on the mountain region: crumbling roads and slipping foundations, streams decimated by erosion and slopes cut so steep stabilization after the fact is hopeless. In most cases, the environmental and construction nightmares could have been avoided with better planning up front.

“You look at any development here in Western North Carolina and there are several lots that will sit there and continue to sit there because it’s too steep,” said Blair Bishop, a natural resources instructor at HCC and one of the designers for the low-impact development curriculum.

Following the principles advocated in the college’s curriculum allows developers to end up with a more marketable subdivision. They can avoid lots that looked suitable on paper but on the ground are unworkable, perhaps hemmed in by a creek on one side and large boulders on the other, leaving no room to shoehorn a house or driveway without serious earth moving — and in turn environmental consequences.

“It is definitely environmental but also economical in terms of planning those communities,” said Bishop, who served as the “boots on the ground” during the pilot project.

The degree could be applied to development anywhere and will touch on some of the environmental considerations in other regions. In coastal areas for example, steep slopes aren’t a problem but sandy soils and fragile underground aquifers are.

The new degree will fall under the umbrella of the Natural Resources Department at HCC. The Natural Resource Department already has a reputation for one of the most outstanding two-year degrees in fields like forestry, wildlife management and horticulture. While most community colleges cater almost entirely to students in their own backyard, the natural resources program at HCC draws students from across the state and even the country looking for hands-on training

Bledsoe expects it won’t be long until other colleges copy the degree now that HCC did the hard work of designing the curriculum and getting the state to recognize it.

“We hope we will model for other institutions,” Bledsoe said.

The college is offering a low-impact development certificate as well as the full-fledged degree. It’s obviously not as comprehensive, but is ideal for those already in the industry who want to bone up on sustainable practices.

HCC will hire a new full-time instructor dedicated to the low-impact development degree before the start of the next semester.

As for Stimson, she hopes to find work as a consultant for developers, graders and contractors when she becomes one of the first graduates in the state to hold such a degree.

“It fit right in with my values,” Stimson said. “I have a farm myself and I love the outdoors. I live in the mountains because it is so beautiful here. We have to start taking care of that.”

Standing next to a display that showed pictures of West Virginia mountains scarred by mountaintop removal coal mining, Austin Hall with Appalachian Voices of Boone bemoaned, “That is wrong on such a gut level.”

But with the new Barack Obama administration in place, things may be looking up for environmentalists, said Hall, who was manning a booth at an environmental fair at Western Carolina University last week. The fair featured an array of advocates promoting their causes whether it was green-built homes, doing away with coal-fired power plants or recycling.

During George Bush’s presidency mountaintop removal “exponentially grew” while Obama is “ardent” about ending the process that has leveled one million acres of mountains in Central Appalachia, said Hall.

Other environmentalists at the fair also hope their causes continue to gain momentum.

 

Manning the booths

Avram Friedman, executive director of the Canary Coalition of Sylva, used the fair as an opportunity to speak out against coal-fired power plants. There are already 14 coal-fired power plants in the state, and a new one proposed by Duke in Rutherford County should be stopped, he said.

His grassroots organization promotes clean air and is attempting to get the N.C. Division of Air Quality to rescind a permit to build the plant. Duke claims the plant is needed because of the growing energy demand, he said.

“They are using $2.5 billion in ratepayer money to commit us to burning coal for the next 50 years,” Friedman said. By ratepayers, Friedman means that every Duke customer in the state is shouldering the cost of building the new polluting plant.

The legislature should impose measures to reduce energy consumption such as creating a sliding scale for power bills that charges more as more energy is used, Friedman said.

“This will give households and businesses an incentive to invest in energy consumption, so we don’t have to build polluting power plants,” he said.

Nitrous oxide from coal plants causes childhood asthma, sulfur dioxide creates a haze over the mountains and mercury can cause neurological damage in children like autism, Friedman said.

He also said the state’s power grid needs to be “decentralized,”adding that 60 percent of the power from the grid is lost. He advocates putting solar panels on people’s roofs.

The Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River also had a booth at the fair to broadcast its message against water pollution. The organization believes that some developers are violating the county’s sediment control ordinance that seeks to protect streams from muddy runoff.

When developers cut down trees and bulldoze sites for homes, silt and dirt can run into steams and ultimately into the Tuckasegee River.

“We just want people to follow the rules and not cause more damage,” said Myrtle Schrader, a member of WATR. “One person’s footprint can be huge and affect the quality of life for everyone.”

One person particularly interested in his ecological footprint is Lenni Humphries with the WCU Environmental Science Program, who was filling out a online questionnaire during the fair at myfootprint.org while manning a booth. His booth featured a display on how idling a vehicle uses more energy than cutting the engine and then restarting it.

His display also showed how things should be reused before they are recycled because recycling takes energy, too. He showed how eggshells, lint and tea bags can be used for compost and how used tea bags can act like baking soda to make the refrigerator smell fresher.

Cell phones can be given to battered women’s shelters for 911 use and to troops overseas, he said.

Another way things can be recycled is by wearing them, said Emily Lauro, a WCU senior and fashion minor who was at the fair signing people up for her recycle fashion and art show.

Necklaces made out of bottle caps, a wrapping paper kimono and a mask were some the recycled fashion items on display.

The contest features two categories — 2D and 3D art and recycled and restyled fashion. Recycled fashion can mean buying a couple of items at the thrift stores and using portions of them to make a new garment.

Those interested in participating should e-mail her This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Other than making your clothes environmentally conscious you can also make your home that way, according to Candice Black, outreach coordinator for the WNC Green Building Council, which seeks to educate on environmentally friendly building practices.

Western Carolina University is leading the way in a state mandate to cut energy production on college campuses.

WCU has already reached the state target of reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by the year 2015, making it the first and only university to reach the goal so far.

WCU Energy Manager Lauren Bishop, who has led efforts to reduce energy consumption on campus, organized last week’s fair on energy and the environment. The goal of the fair was to promote sustainability, which she defined as “meeting the needs of today without compromising future generations.”

The university is doing the best it can to reduce its energy consumption, Bishop said. While WCU had a $4.8 million utility bill last year, that’s $600,000 lower than it had been — a reduction achieved by using natural gas instead of petroleum and taking other steps such as using electric vehicles.

During the fair, WCU Chancellor John Bardo touted WCU’s energy reduction accomplishments. The 30 percent cut in fossil fuel consumption was based on 2002-2003 levels.

Universities account for 52 percent of the state governments total energy use, according to Reid Conway, program manager for the state Energy Office in Asheville, who served as keynote speaker at the event.

North Carolina ranks 12th in energy consumption and is expected to see a 28 percent increase in energy use between 2005 and 2020.

About $200 million was spent on energy in state buildings in 2006.

The state consumed 180.9 million barrels of oil in 2006, he said.

Conway believes the state will make progress thanks to a new law passed by the state legislature that requires power companies to get 3 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2012 and 12.5 percent by 2021. Using renewable resources such as wind, thermal, geothermal and biomass, can improve air quality, Conway said.

More efficient building codes and water conservation also need to be employed in the state to help the environment, he said.

People should be encouraged to conserve energy because it costs $3,555 a year for a family making $10,000 to $30,000, he said.

The greening of America

“I suddenly think about my friends, you know, getting on their private jets. And I think, well, you know, maybe they have the right idea. Maybe all that we have to do is mouth a few platitudes, show a good, expression of concern on our faces, buy a Prius, drive it around for a while and give it to the maid, attend a few fundraisers and you’re done. Because, actually, all anybody really wants to do is talk about it.”

— Author Michael Crichton in 2007


That was Michael Crichton — the author of such books as Jurassic Park and, more to the point, State of Fear — speaking last year to scientists debating the reality of global warming and whether human activity is the culprit. For those who don’t know, Crichton has become the naysayers’ Al Gore, the person called to speak when a celebrity draw is needed at conventions and gatherings attended by those who say melting polar ice caps are just nature’s way.

By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Living “green” is a way of life for Mark and Darcia Bondurant. The Haywood County family of four works diligently everyday to reduce their carbon footprint by doing everything from buying locally produced food to heating their two-story mountain home with a passive solar design, a technique that utilizes the sun’s rays for warmth.

Page 2 of 3
Go to top