University of Kentucky trustees were understandably happy to hear about President Eli Capilouto's ambitious dormitory building campaign. It seemed there was a less enthusiastic reception for the students and Lexington residents who asked the board to phase out two coal-fired burners that heat much of the campus in favor of cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy.
Seems to us these two stories should come together to create a teachable moment that would benefit UK, its students and the community.
What if UK ratcheted up its ambitions to include building the most sustainable dormitories possible? What if the architecture and engineering schools used these projects as labs to teach students about sustainable building? What if the best and brightest high school students visited campus and were dazzled by zero net energy dorms that put at least as much electricity back into the grid as they use?
Schools across the nation have earned bragging rights for sustainable buildings. Earlier this month the University of Illinois broke ground on a new engineering building that's projected to be the largest zero net energy building in the nation. Colorado State University has been recognized for its 30-acre solar power plant that will cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6 million kilograms. Closest to home, Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. is well into a multi-year, $87 million project to replace its four coal-fired plants with geothermal energy, the most ambitious project of its kind in the nation.
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There's more than bragging rights at stake. Green dorms won't make the coal-fired plants obsolete but they would be a step toward a healthier campus and community. Even though UK says the coal-fired plants meet current environmental regulations, our air is dirtier because we have them in the middle of town. They contribute to Lexington's carbon footprint, already the largest among 100 U.S. cities.
A new president offers any university a rare moment for optimism and ambition. This is UK's ambitious moment. Don't waste it.