Chandler-Gilbert Community College celebrated the opening of the Environmental Technology Center, an outdoor learning center, at the college’s Pecos campus Tuesday.
“The Environmental Technology Center is an umbrella term for the ramada and the outdoor learning spaces,” said Jacalyn Askin, CGCC vice president of administrative services. “It’s an opportunity for our students to use outdoor environment to learn about sustainability issues, global issues and social and environmental issues.”
The space incorporates a garden, shaded area and a ramada with solar panels donated by Salt River Project. Solar panels installed on the top of the ramada structure not only provide shade, but also electricity.
The outdoor space will be used in tandem for class and honors projects, club meeting areas and classroom space.
The concept for the college’s garden began in 2006 and has grown, Askin said.
While the project can be used to enhance classwork, it also helps both CGCC and SRP reach important benchmarks on their quest for further sustainability.
“Through your work, we’ve achieved major milestones,” Rufus Glasper, Maricopa County Community College District chancellor, told the students and faculty who gathered at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
With the creation of the Sustainability Action Council at MCCCD in 2010, the district planned to reduce energy use, while focusing on the “triple bottom line,” managing the balance between ecological, economical and societal success, Glasper said. Introducing solar energy to CGCC was part of that equation.
It also impacts SRP’s goal to have 20 percent of all electrical retail needs met by sustainable resources by 2020, said David Felix, SRP manager for solar initiatives.
“This not only lets students learn about, but see the technology first-hand,” Felix said.
Students will be able to monitor the solar output in real time, said Lori Singleton, SRP director for emerging customer programs.
The project was funded through SRP’s EarthWise Energy program, which allows customers to donate a few extra dollars every month to go toward building solar installations at non-profits, Singleton said.
This is the first such installation at a school or college, according to Singleton.
“Students can see what happens when a cloud moves over the structure and how quickly it comes back when a cloud passes by,” Singleton said. “They’ll probably discover that it doesn’t perform at best levels during the hottest part of the summer. Heat decreases solar efficiency.”
While it may seem that the school is limited to a few classes that can utilize the space, that couldn’t be farther from the truth, Askin said.
“We are trying to increase ecological literacy,” he said. “So many students have grown up in the suburbs. How do they get to know nature? Some students haven’t ever picked up a shovel.”
The sustainability and ecological literacy program at the college offers courses in English, math and psychology, to name a few, that will utilize the space, said Darien Ripple, the environmental technology center coordinator.
“If you eat the food that you grow yourself, it makes you feel good — that’s a form of therapy,” said Bellamia Dicontini, a psychology major who takes courses at CGCC and Arizona State University.
The outside center provides that connection to nature as students plant and grow carrots, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and watermelon, Ripple said.
“I think it’s great for fostering community relationships,” said Kendra Stanger, CGCC honors sophomore and Mesa resident. “It brightens up my day. I’ve learned a lot and a lot of the other kids are older, so I’ve learned a lot from them.”
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