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California Community College To Be America’s First Self-Sustaining School

An ambitious partnership between California’s College of the Desert (COD) and Palm Springs is set to launch America’s first self-sustaining college campus, following other U.S. colleges blazing a higher education sustainability trail.

Campus courtyards shaded by solar panels

The West Valley Campus, a satellite location to COD’s 50-year old main campus, will be LEED Platinum certified; achieve net-zero energy, waste, and water status through of innovative design elements; and integrate sustainability initiatives into all construction and operation activities.

College campuses are increasingly among the leaders in U.S. sustainability efforts, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to lowering energy bills with renewables and building net zero energy communities.

COD and Palm Springs envision the 119-acre site becoming the hub of a regional green collar economy. The campus will host commercially-operated clean tech business incubator facilities, as well as GreenPark, a 60-acre solar farm built by Southern California Edison with 10 megawatts of capacity – enough potential generation to power 5,200 homes.

Although built for commercial use, GreenPark renewable generation facilities will be open to students to teach green collar job skills. Solar will also be prominently featured on campus rooftops, carports, and above courtyards to provide shade.

Desert landscaping and design lowers energy and water demand

Design innovations will also help the campus maintain lower temperatures and minimize water demand. Beyond using solar to create shade, the campus is designed like a box canyon to create shade from the south side while maximizing daylight from the north. A stormwater reservoir will create evaporative cooling, while desert landscaping, vacuum toilets like the ones found on airplanes, and water runoff collection will all minimize water demands.

“West Valley Campus will allow us to show that our integrated sustainability approach is environmentally and socially responsible, can solve environmental challenges, and be economically viable through cost savings and reduced operating costs,” said Dr. Edwin Deas, COD’s vice president for business affairs. “The campus will become a model for research and teaching on sustainability and stewardship.”

Beyond sustainable design, the campus will integrate green collar education into its four core curriculum “program pillars.” In addition to a sustainability technology degree, COD will teach sustainable business practices in the growing fields of hospitality and tourism, healthcare, and media and the arts.

In addition, a “Policy of Sustainability” will push COD decisions to use college land in an environmentally responsible way, retrofit campus buildings to the highest feasible level of sustainability, create partnerships to promote green initiatives, and develop annual strategies to meet sustainability targets.

Phase one of the campus, slated to open in Spring 2015, will cost $26.8 million and be covered in part by a COD bond measure passed by residents in 2004. Phase one construction is expected to create 700 total jobs. Subsequent construction phases will be funded by revenue generated by selling GreenPark energy back to the grid, as well as business incubator profits.

Images via HGA Architects and Engineers

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Written By

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.


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