LACCD’s Billion Dollar Campus Building Program Showing Results for Colleges & Impacting Sustainability Practices

A rendering of the Library Resource Center at Los Angeles Harbor College, currently under construction along with a new Sciences Complex.

When the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) launched a $1.2 billion building program in 2001, green building and sustainability were not nearly the industry buzz words that they are today. Now, however, with LACCD’s program continuing through 2015 and spending $6 billion, LACCD has consistently set the market for green products and can claim game-changing impacts on sustainability practices in the building industry. With the peak construction years of the program looming in 2011 and 2012, VerdeX was pleased to speak with Larry Eisenberg, executive director of LACCD facilities planning and development.

VerdeX: As a recognized leader in sustainability, how much more construction of LACCD facilities will there be in 2011?

Eisenberg: In 2011 and 2012, we will hit the peak of the program. We’re expecting to spend about a billion dollars a year on construction activity. We are currently in design on probably 20 buildings that will move into construction. We have another 10 or so yet to get into design, which will conclude the program. The program will largely end in 2014. There may be a few stragglers in 2015, but that will be it.

VerdeX: What were the ambitions of the facilities program a decade ago?  What have been the significant accomplishments to date?

Eisenberg: When the program began in 2001, at that point $1.2 billion, growing today to $6 billion, the desire was to use the opportunity to demonstrate sustainable strategies and renewable energy concepts. It’s fascinating how it has proven out. My sense is that LACCD has provided leadership here in L.A., and beyond—to the state and the nation as well. We’ve set a very large example of what can be done.

The result that we’re seeing now—those 20 buildings that we have getting ready to go into construction, with some of them under construction now, will be LEED Platinum buildings, which I’m very excited about. In the entire United States now, there are probably less than 100 LEED Platinum buildings. At LACCD, we’re going to have at least 20 LEED Platinum buildings spread across our colleges, which is quite an accomplishment.

One of the interesting elements is that we had chatted about the idea of mandating LEED Platinum design concepts, but we did not do that. Instead we developed what we call Campus Sustainable Design Guidelines. That is a book of more than a couple hundred pages that goes through every element of building construction andTrade Tech
The Los Angeles Trade Technical College South Campus at night. Designed by MBA
Johnson Favaro, the project won the Los Angeles Business Council's 2010
Education-Public Award. The project achieved LEED Gold status.
describes what one does to create a sustainable outcome for that segment of the building. With that, and with the guidance of the architect, engineering, and construction teams, we are getting maximum sustainability. They really picked up the ball and carried it forward, and we’re seeing fabulous results.

VerdeX: What is included in LACCD’s Campus Sustainable Design Guidelines? What operating efficiencies result from reaching LEED platinum? And what technologies did you employ to get to goal?

Eisenberg: There are simple things that are becoming common place, like the idea of day-lighting, where almost every room in the building enjoys daylight. There’s an inter-tie between the windows and the lighting systems such that if enough daylight is in the building to achieve the light level one wants, the electric lights go off.
We’re using sustainable materials, both in the interior and in the construction of the building, whether it’s carpeting that we’ve specified that creates a very high sustainable standard, or, most recently, we’ve been changing the concrete industry. We’ve been specifying concrete that is highly sustainable through the use of fly ash and now, in particular, recycled concrete, which has been a goal of the concrete industry forever. Finally, with our help, one firm has achieved that. Now they’re sharing their designs with everybody across the industry. In the past, concrete could only be used as base rock underneath a building or under a road. A lot of it just went to landfill. But now with recycled concrete incorporated into the actual concrete of the building, you put it in the mix and you’re good to go. It’s proving to have great strength and of course it’s much less expensive because it’s recycled material.

The lighting technology we’re putting in the buildings is amazing. The technology has evolved very rapidly. We moved away from the CFLs and to LEDs for both interior and exterior use. Our lights on the grounds of the colleges will be LEDs, and in some cases many lights will be stand-alone where the pole itself generates and stores the electricity for the light. It’s a revolutionary way to think about how buildings and campuses work in terms of design process and energy requirements.

VerdeX: We know you and LACCD are always pushing the envelope on sustainability. Beyond energy efficiency from materials, is the district doing much to conserve and reuse water and waste?

Eisenberg: Some of the buildings that we’re doing will be zero-energy buildings; zero-energy means that the building produces as much energy as it consumes. The key to achieving that is to make the building highly efficient from an energy standpoint, in particular the idea that designing a building well means using the gifts of Mother Nature. For example, hot air rises and cool air sinks and daylight comes in and lights the spaces. The idea is that if we do the right design, we can actually eliminate the mechanical system from the building. We don’t need to move air around because it will move by itself through the natural physics of air movement.

When we’ve done this correctly, we’re left with basically only addressing the plug-load of the building, which is your computer being plugged into the wall or your projector on the ceiling. You need electricity for that, and the building makes its own electricity to cover that demand. In many cases, these buildings are actually energy-positive such that they generate enough energy that they can put it back onto the grid.

That’s what we’re going to see in buildings in the future. We’re going to demonstrate that with several of our buildings and show that the built environment minimizes its overall environmental impact.

VerdeX: Choose an LACCD campus—whether it’s the South Campus at L.A. Trade Tech or the new math and science building at West L.A. College—and elaborate on what technologies are being incorporated into your facilities.

Eisenberg: A project that I love is getting ready to start construction: the new Horticulture Building at Pierce College. It’s a unique program among our colleges because at Pierce we teach horticulture for the nursery industry and agriculture. The new horticulture building has many features in it that will achieve zero energy. The heating and cooling for the building is going to come from solar-thermal. That’s the idea of pipes on the roof—the new generation of the old 1970s hippie hot-water heater kind of thing, but now it produces really hot water that we can utilize for air conditioning and for heating, and we can make our domestic hot water supply. It  will even work on a cloudy day. We’ll have photovoltaics on it, producing direct electricity for the complex. It’s going to capture and recycle all of its water.

It has this great feature that I love, which is a water tank in the center of the complex on an elevated pedestal—a water-tower-like the old kind from a small town used to provide water pressure. With that tank we can capture the water and pressurize it so that it flows through the pipes. Then we can use it in plumbing and flush toilets, whatever the case might be. The water is collected, pumped up with a small pump into the water tower and then ultimately pressurized and reused on the complex.

At the horticulture site, we’re going to have a range of plant-growing activities because they’re exploring new species, native species, and drought-resistant species. To incorporate that purpose, the building has an indoor-outdoor feel to it, with walls that will open up to allow the outdoors to come inside, a series of greenhouses that provide their own energy, highly efficient lighting that will go in the classrooms, and materials that we’ll use including things like the carpeting, as I was mentioning before. The glass of the windows is high-efficiency glass to control cooling and heating of the space. The walls will be very thick to accommodate a thermal character that helps heat and cool the space as well—not to mention the lovely nature of the plant beds that will be surrounding that whole area. It’s going to be a great building.

VerdeX: This year, East L.A. College jointly announced a program with Village Global Green to offer a job training, environmental evaluation, monitoring, and verification program, in addition to a teacher training and assessment techniques program. Is student job training to take advantage of new opportunities in the green global marketplace a new direction for LACCD? 

Eisenberg: Absolutely. The idea, and I give all credit to the trustees in launching the program in 2002, was transforming our colleges into living laboratories, using the physicality that we create as a basis for job training and curriculum development to do that. What we’re seeing now are a number of pieces of curriculum being developed that will be directly, vocationally related. A fair number of our students transfer to four-year colleges, but many of our students are vocationally oriented; when they leave us, they’re going to get a job. We need to develop the spaces and the capability to create the job training skills for the new green economy that Los Library
A rendering of the Library Resource Center at Los Angeles Harbor College,
currently under construction along with a new Sciences Complex.
Angeles is ripe for. It’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg issue at the moment: people debate whether there are green jobs available. Our belief is that the industry is just starting to grow. They’re demanding those kinds of professions and we’re starting to train for them with the kind of things that we offer and the kind of buildings that we’ve built to make that possible.

One specific area that is so critical for L.A. relates to transportation, in particular the idea of looking at automotive technology. Three of our colleges teach automotive technology, producing automobile mechanics. But the mechanics that we’re producing starting today and into the future will be people who know about the new technologies like electric cars, hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. To do that we need to create spaces that feature all of those technologies. It’s not what one typically thinks of as a “green” job but it certainly is. As we transform the automotive base in L.A., there will be a huge demand for people trained with those skill sets. We’re poised to make that happen.

VerdeX: You shared with us a year ago LACCD’s pioneering solar program done in partnership with Edison. Give us an update.  What is its potential if taken to scale?

Eisenberg: At the moment, we have a little more than eight megawatts of photovoltaic panels, with which we’ve covered parking lots, some buildings, and parking structures. I would have hoped that the program would move faster, but it’s making progress, and 8-plus megawatts is probably the largest installation of any college organization in the United States at the moment.

The demand we’re talking about right now is for about 40 megawatts of electricity, which is what we use annually. We’ve covered about 20 percent of that. Each year now our plan is to continue to install more. At the same time, we’re exploring alternate technologies as we do it. We’ve been putting in a standard kind of solar panels, but we’ve been getting ready to move to the concentrated technology. We’ve also been putting in thin film on our rooftops as we change our roofs to make them a more productive energy resource. That will continue. The goal, ultimately, is to generate 100 percent of our power through renewable resources. We have been exploring wind technology as well, expecting that some of the new buildings will have a series of wind turbines on them to supplement the energy generation capability.

We’re still pursuing the idea of energy storage. We received a grant from the state of California for an energy storage demonstration project at Trade Tech College, using a new lithium-ion battery concept. That should be a really fascinating capability. In combination, we’re providing a model that’s going to let people see what happens. The other thing that we spent time working on developing as part of that was that it’s not just about the technology; it’s also about the financing of the technology. Although we have a huge amount of money, we have been working to husband that carefully. We’ve been trying to leverage the renewables by picking up money through the Federal Investment Tax Credit Program, through state incentives, and any other kind of element that we can get so we leverage the dollars that we have to provide maximum benefit to the colleges.

VerdeX: Lastly, how much has your team of professionals learned about these new green and clean technologies over the last ten years? How do you pick up the new technologies and do your due diligence?

Eisenberg: People understand that we’re providing leadership and  we’re willing to take risk to do that. People are beating a pathway to our door. I’m getting calls from companies that have new technologies that they want to share and talk about. Every week I see at least a couple people who have something they think has promise. In turn, we employ a range of technical experts who can help look at those technologies, evaluate what’s going on, and decide if it really is something that works in our particular environment. We’ve created an internal mechanism—we have an energy committee that helps vet the technology from a policy level as well, to make sure we’re not too far out on the edge. In combination, it’s an opportunity to really show and demonstrate a lot of interesting things that are going on. That phenomenon of people showing up on the doorstep and having a lot of really bright people working together is a winning combination. •••