The Blue Heron just happened to come across a group of people burrowing up from the new U.W. Link light rail station for a tour of the sustainability features of the U.W. campus a sunny day last month in April, for Earth Month.
The group’s first stop was at the ravaged Burke Gilman trail which has been in detour mode for months, feels like years now, but for a good cause; the segment between 15th Avenue and Rainier Vista is being widened from the current 12-to-16 foot lane to 24 feet and being made into separate pathways for bicyclists and pedestrians. It will be completed in July.
Just beyond that overlooking NE Pacific St., the U.W.’s first urban farm is being demolished to make way for a state of the art, 169,000 square foot Life Sciences Building to be home to the Biology Department. Forget images of isolated, lonely lab work; the building will be conducive to “’unexpected synergies’” to promote “entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary” approaches “to teaching and conducting research,” says the website. Adjacent to the new building, a 20,000 square foot biology greenhouse will replace the 67-year-old botany greenhouse. (Recently Huskies helped move plants to new homes.)
The building’s south side will have fins to reduce glare and provide shading. Those will be embedded with solar panels, which turn out to no more costly than aluminum save for the electrical wiring. “Even though the solar panels will not be optimally placed to generate solar power,” wrote tour leader Chris Toman in an email follow-up, “the cost to install them is on par with installing more traditional materials and will offset some of the buildings energy needs.“
There are also plans to reuse lab water to irrigate the greenhouse although that is dependent on funding.
All the new U.W. buildings are LEED silver, some gold. Not just construction but also transportation is going green. The university has 260 flexible-fuel vehicles in it 712-vehicle fleet. It will have a total of 42 electric cars by June 2016. There are 41 EV charging stations around campus, with five of those available for public use.
About 4,000 of the smart U.W. students bike to class rain or shine every day making use of 650 bike lockers and numerous bike racks around campus.
Even the trash cans are smart. Once the Big Belly Solar waste receptacles are full they text maintenance staff to come empty them.
Sustainability features extend to the U.W.’s wildlife too – no not parties – ducks, the feathered kind that swim in the spectacular Drumheller Fountain. The fountain has a duck ramp so that baby ducks can get out. This used to be a problem as the ducklings couldn’t fly or scale the fountain’s steep sides. Now they have safe passage.
Just southwest of the fountain, hidden in a patch of tall trees known as Island Grove, Blue Herons have been nesting since 2007. As the tour group stood around peering up at the nests high in the trees, one flew in, gliding through the tree tops, circling and disappearing among the branches. The photographer was so captivated, she failed to take a picture, knowing there wouldn’t be time, instead watching as the bird appeared and was gone. “Sweet!” someone said. And another remarked to Chris, “You planned that well.”
For a fascinating historical perspective, the U.W. has an online Environmental History Tour.