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Sustainability at HCC

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

If Dr. Rose Johnson has her way, the future campus of Haywood Community College will serve as a model of sustainable practices. The college is making it its goal to practice what it preaches.

“Our intention is to demonstrate sustainability by becoming good stewards ourselves,” Johnson says.


If this mantra is successful, a visitor to the HCC campus might expect to have the following experience in a matter of years.


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A future vision

Walking onto the campus, the visitor will encounter a plethora of environmentally friendly buildings that require minimum energy. That’s because the campus-wide master plan, unveiled this year, will require the school to seek out companies that use the latest sustainable practices.

“(When) initiating the campus-wide master plan, we put out proposals to companies and specified they had to be familiar with sustainable building and green technologies,” Johnson says.

Consideration will be given to the placement of roads, sidewalks and buildings in order to reduce water runoff and capitalize on natural air circulation and heating elements from the sun. A visitor might see rain gardens — funding for one has already been secured for placement outside the new Regional Center for the Advancement of Children — and solar panels.

The rain gardens will be composed of plants native to the area — a theme that will be prevalent in the landscaping all over campus. These types of vegetation survive in the natural elements, and therefore require less watering and no special fertilizer.

Largely responsible for planting the rain gardens will be students in the school’s horticulture program. Walking down to the horticulture department, a visitor might find students working with plants inside a proposed solar-powered greenhouse, or studying ways to design more sustainable gardens with native plants and flowers using organic techniques.

Continuing along their journey, the campus visitor might stumble upon the crafts department, where students are firing pottery with a large brick kiln. The kiln, built by HCC this year, doesn’t use gas or electricity; rather, it is modeled after a kiln used by traditional crafters and relies on wood to fuel it. Wood is often recycled from woodworking projects and then placed in the kiln. The pieces it produces have an unusual, beautiful quality to them, and “are very in demand,” Johnson says, selling for hundreds of dollars.

Over in the school’s automotive department, the visitor might see students in the Automotive Systems program working on engines that are designed for alternative fuels. The school received a donation of a diesel truck from Ken Wilson Ford this year.

“We requested a diesel vehicle because we wanted to incorporate diesel engine repair and maintenance into our Automotive Systems Program because as more cars are moving to alternative fuels, our students need to know how to work on those engines,” says Johnson. Plans are currently in the works to offer an alternative fuels class.

The visitor may be greeted by another type of alternative fueled car during their campus stroll — a Global Electric Motorcar (GEM), driven by a campus security officer. The small cart resembles a miniature Volkswagen and relies on electricity rather than gas. HCC has already secured a grant to purchase one of the vehicles; Johnson would like to see additional ones follow.

The school pursued the GEM grant in an effort to cut down on carbon emissions, one of its major initiatives. Johnson signed a climate commitment along with other higher education leaders in a pact to reduce pollutants at her school and find alternative energy sources. Schools like Appalachian State University and Western Carolina University have entire fleets of vehicles powered by alternative fuel sources — a goal Johnson would like realized.

Continuing along on their campus journey, the visitor might notice a group of businesspeople strolling along the school grounds. The people could be doing any of several things — they might be graduates of the school’s proposed entrepreneurship program, which will equip students with the knowledge of sustainable management principles and teach them how to capitalize on the increasing desire for environmentally-friendly businesses.

Another associate’s program is also in the works, tentatively called Sustainable Development Technologies. That program will incorporate alternative energies and construction site design, minimizing the impact of structures. The green building techniques will help students achieve LEED certification, a stamp that indicates a project meets sustainable standards, according to HCC professor Blair Bishop.

The school will soon begin to invite community business people for a dialogue to help determine what the components of these programs might be, such as the skills and content that will be taught and current job opportunities available for graduates.

The businesspeople, though, might also be contractors attending a licensure program in sustainable building practices. Though no formal plans have been drawn up for this program, Johnson said contractors and real estate agents have related the need for licensure opportunities to meet increasing demand.

Before leaving campus, the visitor might take the opportunity to enroll in one of several workshops offered to the general public. Among those being considered are programs that will teach homeowners how to make their house more energy efficient.

Dr. Johnson is excited about current and future initiatives at HCC.

“It’s going to continue to be evolved, but one of the things we’re realizing is that we can integrate aspects of sustainability into every curriculum program we have,” she said.


Reaching out into the community

Sustainable initiatives won’t only be confined to HCC’s campus. The school has already started to partner with organizations around the community to incorporate more people into their vision.

“What I envision happening is that we have a platform of information about all the connected efforts,” Johnson said.

The college’s work with alternative fuels is one example of collaboration between the school and community. After the school secured a diesel truck with the help of Ken Wilson Ford to give students the opportunity to learn how to repair alternative-fueled engines, school officials saw the need for students to learn more about the alternative fuels themselves. This gave rise to the idea for a joint effort between Haywood County and the college to produce biodiesel.

According to County Solid Waste Director Stephen King, the county agreed to provide a vehicle to run tests on the biodiesel as well as the facility to make the fuel and the manpower to convert the vegetable oil. The college would provide an education on the process and a possible certification or degree in green energy.

“I guess the best way to describe (the partnership) was that there was a mutual interest with the county trying to look greener ... and the school basically has the same values and ethics on that,” King said.

“It’s thinking outside the box,” Commissioner Mary Ann Enloe said at the June 18 meeting where the proposal was presented.

Unfortunately, HCC found out Monday that they were turned down for a grant through the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to fund their portion of the project. This won’t deter Bishop, who vows to pursue other means of funding.

“The upside is ... while we didn’t receive funding from the ARC, the collaboration and the partnership through the county commissioners and HCC shows how dedicated the interest is in the community for sustainable energy,” Bishop said.

The interest is undoubtedly there — even the local cooperative extension office is getting involved. Plans are in the works to test varieties of plants that can be converted into alternative fuels, such as canola. Possible future projects could determine what type of yields certain plants produce, and the subsequent cost.


Mapping developments

One grant that was recently awarded to a HCC project gives the school’s geospatial department the funding to help developers map out their land to utilize it in the most environmentally-sensitive manner. Using GIS technology, officials from Haywood Waterways and HCC work with a developer to detect slopes, micro-watersheds, rock outcroppings, soils, and plant communities on their land. HCC is responsible for the computer analysis of the project, though the GIS equipment belongs to Haywood Waterways.

Ron Moser of Haywood Waterways said the project was so well received the first time around the organization decided to apply for more grant money. The first time, two spots were available but nine applicants applied to a newspaper article. This time, funding is sufficient to assist eight developers.

“We’re developing Haywood County at a more rapid pace, and we’re having to develop more difficult properties,” Moser said.

With the technology, developers will end up with a safer, more stable subdivision and save money in the long run, he said.


The art of making paper

One project still very much in the works is a possible collaboration between HCC and the town of Canton that would focus on the art of making paper.

HCC already has a Pulp and Paper Technology program, geared toward the science of the process. And with its long history as the home of Blue Ridge Paper Products, making paper is embedded in Canton’s culture. Such a program would draw from the history of the mill and its economic impact on the town, Johnson said.

The school is currently in talks with Handmade in America, a renowned program that works with small-town crafters, to discuss what the curriculum might include.

Johnson said an Art of Papermaking program would ideally focus on processes for making specialty papers and use native plants from a garden on the property to make various types of paper. The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville has a garden like this, and produces paper from products like okra and tobacco.

Handmade in America CEO Becky Anderson envisions a combination of a training program and incubator. The incubator would be a place for artists to start their papermaking business, as well as a tourism venue, where visitors could see how paper is made by hand.

“(The college) already has a crafts program, so it’s a great way to combine what they already do well and looking toward the future. For us it’s a great economic venue because our job is to create economies for our craft communities,” Anderson said.

Currently, the school and Handmade in America are working with the town to secure a building and research funding strategies. Anderson is also studying other paper incubators to see how they work.

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