Missed Opportunities: New Alter Hall design lacking

Everyone has seen it. Everyone has definitely heard it. Alter Hall is being renovated into an entirely new space on campus for students to work, learn and grow. Isn’t that exciting?
Well, I’m challenging you to take a deeper look at this newly designed structure that “enhances” our campus community.

I must start by commending the Alter Hall Renovation Team, InPosse and the Sustainability Advisory Group assigned to this project. Without all of their hard work, this building’s design and infrastructure would not be possible.

There were three main accomplishments regarding the building’s sustainability: 1) pursuing a low-energy consumption target (45,000 BTUs per square foot, half the campus average), 2) the use of reusable materials, conscious disposal of waste and local sourcing of new materials and 3) no irrigation. All these factors contribute to Alter’s likely achievement of LEED Gold certification, one level higher than any other building on campus.

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Olivia Capannari is a junior sustainability: economics and managmement and environmental studies double major from Cincinnati.

These accomplishments are without a doubt commendable. But can’t we be doing more? Aren’t we always challenged here at Xavier to do more? To “build a better community?”

In my opinion, this new building is deceiving our community into thinking that we are building an amazing, new, green, energy efficient Alter Hall. And while that may be true, Xavier could still be “building a better” Alter Hall. The cost effectiveness of having Alter linked to the Central Utility Plant (CUP) of campus was more enticing to the planners than seeking to be innovative and daring to be different with renewable forms of energy. The “CUP” powers the main buildings on campus using coal and other non-renewables efficiently, with less waste. By sourcing the energy from the “CUP,” planners ensured that Alter’s energy will not come from renewable or clean sources (i.e. solar, wind, geothermal, etc.). Instead, it will come from coal.

Budget restraints are inevitable at any university, but I really believed that Xavier had opened its eyes to environmental costs after having sustainability advocates like Jeremy Rifkin, Amory Lovins and Bill McDonough speak on campus just last year. How can our campus’s most influential leaders have listened and agreed to what those men had to say but still be approving the plans for the new Alter Hall? It would be interesting to hear what Rifkin, Lovins and McDonough would say if they looked at the plans for the new design. My guess is that they would suggest doing better by investing in renewable energy. McDonough would most likely say that Alter is now going to be “less bad” but still not “good.”

As a Xavier student, a sustainability major and especially as a student senator, I am constantly challenged to look towards the future so I can fulfill the Xavier Student Commitment and “succeed in changing the world” by making it better for those to come. Why isn’t this commitment and ideal being upheld in all Xavier affairs? The renovation of Alter Hall offers Xavier the opportunity to be innovative and give renewable energy more of a presence on campus.

While numerous sustainability efforts are being made in the Alter Hall renovation, the inevitable truth remains: we could still be doing better. Unfortunately, there have been missed opportunities for sustainability that could have helped Xavier “succeed in changing the world.” Nonetheless, I believe that our community will continue to strive forward and make Alter the best it can be with the design that was chosen. I look forward to Xavier’s future and sincerely hope that in the near future, we really will take a stand, make a difference and succeed in changing the world.