Portland State has taken another step to lead the way for modern, eco-friendly universities. The Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships has secured a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to upgrade the energy efficiency of the university and the surrounding neighborhood.
The grant was originally intended for the Oregon Sustainability Center and its effort to make the world’s first carbon-neutral building. ORSP Vice President Erin Flynn, who spearheaded the current project, explained that the funding was repurposed after the state failed to approve the bonding for the OSC.
“The project died; the assumption was that once the building was killed the EDA money went away,” Flynn said. “In November 2012 the EDA people called us back and said, ‘Hey, that $1.5 million has already been budgeted for a project in Portland.’ The money was sitting in a bank account in Seattle. ‘If you can come up with a project that meets the original goal we will make this grant available to you.’”
Flynn looked at the PSU budget and discovered an existing project which could be expanded with the EDA grant. Replacing the antiquated boiler in the West Heating Plant had already been approved, so Flynn added three additional phases to meet the initial goals of carbon reduction and economic development.
Phase two of the project will consist of upgrading the power meters on 21 buildings in the neighborhood south of Southwest Market Street. The ORSP hopes to involve students and faculty, possibly even a capstone class, in the design and implementation of the new meters. The more modern meters will allow greater specificity in data from each building.
The third phase involves gathering all the data from these new meters and showing them to the public. The Market Center Building will be the home of the new visualization theater. With seven 90-inch screens, information regarding how PSU is using and conserving energy will be available. The theater will be similar to the informative screens on the first floor of Smith Memorial Student Union but on a grander scale.
“It’s going to be more of a laboratory,” Flynn said. “There will be multiple screens to see the live performance data from buildings. It’s going to be a lot more comprehensive. It’s a much more complex set of data.”
With a tentative starting date of fall 2015, PSU will offer a Professional Energy Certificate. The one year, post-undergraduate program will familiarize students with the latest green technologies specifically focused on energy reduction.
Flynn sees this project and many others as a positive sign of progress for PSU. ORSP’s next proposal will be the transformation of Lincoln Station, which will soon connect downtown Portland with Milwaukee via light rail.
“There’s a lot of expectation of PSU wanting it to grow and become the premiere university for the state of Oregon,” Flynn said. “It’s already the largest, but historically not the flagship campus. PSU had a pretty funky mix of buildings; slowly the campus is being upgraded. It makes a big difference for the student experience to have nice facilities.”