HCC’s green dream requires money and faith
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.
* 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.