Ivy, Money and Other Things Green
Perhaps on some primordial level it has to do with the migratory instincts of birds, but if there's one constant in my life, it's that I know I'll be doing a lot of flying every spring—and indeed I have over the past few weeks, traveling to a number of conferences, media events, etc. The theme of this issue is sports facilities, which has nothing to do with flying, but many of these venue...
Perhaps on some primordial level it has to do with the migratory instincts of birds, but if there’s one constant in my life, it’s that I know I’ll be doing a lot of flying every spring—and indeed I have over the past few weeks, traveling to a number of conferences, media events, etc. The theme of this issue is sports facilities, which has nothing to do with flying, but many of these venues are being built or renovated on college campuses as our cover, featuring the University of Virginia’s new multipurpose arena, attests. This column is not about sports venues in particular, but this editor has spent a lot of time lately on college campuses, and it’s put me in an introspective, if not nostalgic, mood. First, the students sure seem a lot younger than I remember. Second, it would be easy to slip into the university life. I’m not saying the hallowed grounds of academia are free of bureaucratic and political headaches, but after nearly 20 years of corporate life, I must confess that walking along vine-covered walls somehow felt right, and it was good being around people dedicated to goals other than making money, be they education, research or preservation.
One of my stops took me to Carnegie Mellon University outside Pittsburgh, where the school’s engineering and architecture program is doing some interesting things on the sustainable building front, including experimenting with an absorption chiller that uses hot water and solar energy vs. natural gas. I met with Prof. Volker Hartkopf and toured his “Intelligent Workplace,” a living lab dedicated to studying not only how building systems can integrate better, but also how buildings should better serve their occupants. In fact, Prof. Hartkopf is quite passionate on the subject and is frankly baffled that more building owners can’t do the “right thing.” Having a graduate degree from the School of Hard Knocks, I think I can answer the question: M-O-N-E-Y. Whether we admit it, currency is what makes the world go round, even at universities. That’s certainly clear in this month’s overview of the sports facilities market, where our writers report that colleges are taking a cue from the private sector in recognizing that their athletic programs are indeed products and their stadiums need to be monetized to the fullest extent.
And that’s why many schools are also taking advantage of public-private ventures. Another reason I was at CMU was to see its new Collaborative Innovation Center, which houses a data center for university research. But the ultimate goal of the facility is to study the maintenance and operations of data centers to help businesses reduce the costs associated with these facilities. While a little strange, it’s a good deal for CMU as they didn’t have to construct the center; it was built and financed privately, and CMU just rents space within. This success begs the question as to how the gap between what’s right, as Prof. Hartkopf put it, and what’s profitable can be bridged? I’d say it requires the pragmatic view of engineers. Even if it’s only in small doses, engineers must continue to push for more energy-efficient and intelligent building features, because if you don’t, who will? Besides, the first folks who figure it out will be rolling in the green.