By Luciana Chavez

Special to Merced College

From water bottle filling stations to electric vehicle charging stations to energy-efficient lighting, Merced College has made a commitment to sustainability that’s worth celebrating on Earth Day 2021. 

There are now water bottle filling stations on both campuses. The hope is everyone develops new habits, bringing refillable bottles from home instead of using waterway- and landfill-choking plastic bottles that take 450 years to decompose.

The college has also been working to reduce paper usage since it began paperless registration in 2011. “Going paperless” became an official initiative in 2020.

The wholesale move to distance learning in March 2020 pushed Merced College even further in that direction. It reduced paper exchanges with professors by putting more computers in more students’ hands through a campuswide laptop loaner program.

Phase II of the paperless effort was completed when Human Resources also finished converting all personnel information from paper to digital PDF files this past fall. Phase III will be creating ways for employees to change and submit information to HR via an online portal.

Back in 2018, the Los Banos Campus was able to partner with PG&E to add electric vehicle (EV) charging stations for up to 12 vehicles, which were completed in December. Los Banos also installed carports that include 1,284 solar panels, which are producing clean energy on the West Side campus. 

“We’re already seeing early savings that will eventually pay for the project over the next 10 years,” said Marcus Metcalf, Merced College’s Director of Capital Projects & Construction.

Students and staff are already using five EV charging ports near the tennis courts on the Merced Campus. Metcalf said the charging ports are great recruiting tools, so the College is doing a feasibility study about adding rapid charging ports and additional regular charging ports in the same lot.

The Merced Campus has seen a number of recent improvements, one of the most notable being the installation of a brand-new chiller at the campus’s central plant.

“It will allow for more energy savings,” Metcalf said. “We’ll have more efficient units.”

Let there be (LED) light

The college is nearing completion of a $4 million project with Johnson Controls International that has upgraded all lighting—LED bulbs with new fixtures—on the Merced Campus, the Los Banos Campus and the Business Resource Center in downtown Merced. Energy savings are expected to completely offset the cost of the upgrade over the next 20 years.

Metcalf said the lightning at Stadium ’76 will be among the most noticeable of upgrades, but he is equally excited about the installation of energy optimization software that will run all systems more efficiently and save the college money for years. The new software will allow maintenance to schedule when buildings are heated and cooled and see when troubles arise.

The Los Banos Campus has been using the new software since the winter, and nearly all buildings at Merced have the software already, with the remainder expected to be complete by next year.

“It takes away a lot of the guesswork, so we can be that much more efficient when making repairs,” Metcalf said. “We’ve had energy management systems in some form for decades, but the older systems are obsolete. As the old ones go down, we can’t replace them. We have to retrofit with new versions.”

Like most institutions of higher education, Merced College’s buildings were constructed decades ago, before environmental sustainability became the norm. But the college finds inspiration in nearby UC Merced, which was famously built to be “green from the ground up” when it opened in 2005 and has since become a national leader in sustainable construction, design and operations.

“Even though we’re dealing with older infrastructure, we want to show we are in line with that philosophy,” Metcalf said. “We work hard not to stay stagnant. We keep sustainability at the forefront as we plan, change and build.