green for green

University of Houston-Downtown receives $250,000 gift to go greener

UHD's science building has received funding from a nonprofit affiliate of Green Mountain Energy to install green energy technology. Courtesy of NRG

The University of Houston-Downtown has gotten some green to make its new College of Sciences & Technology Building even more green.

The Green Mountain Energy Sun Club, a nonprofit affiliated with the Green Mountain Energy utility provider, has pledged more than $250,000 to UHD for installation of solar panels at the building, as well as the purchase of photosynthesis equipment.

Akif Uzman, dean of UHD's College of Sciences & Technology, says in a release that the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club gift propels "our drive to show students and our local community our commitment to energy conservation and sustainable energy practices."

By the spring of 2020, UHD will install a 54-panel, 16.7-kilowatt, off-grid solar system that will help power two environmental science teaching labs in the College of Sciences & Technology Building. One of the labs, the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club Environmental Science Lab, will host classes by next year's spring semester.

"Our mission is to change the way power is made, and we share UHD's dedication to renewable energy, environmental education, and reducing carbon emissions," Mark Parsons, vice president and general manager of Houston-based Green Mountain Energy, says in a release.

Houston-based NRG Energy owns Green Mountain Energy.

Donations to the Sun Club come from Green Mountain Energy and its customers and employees. Since 1997, Green Mountain Energy has promoted energy efficiency, conservation, and environmental stewardship.

The Sun Club gift also will help buy a portable photosynthesis system. Michael Tobin, associate professor of biology, says the equipment will take measurements of plants in courses such as Plant Biology Laboratory, General Ecology Laboratory, and Environmental Lab and Field Studies. In addition, it will be used by students conducting faculty-guided research projects.

"A research-grade instrument to make photosynthesis and water use measurements will enhance students' research experiences and increase the likelihood that their project results can be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal," Tobin says in a release.

UHD opened the College of Sciences & Technology Building in August. It's the first University of Houston System building constructed to meet LEED Gold standards, reflecting a commitment to sustainability features such as energy-efficient lighting, recycled construction materials, and "smart" design components.

Spanning 105,000 square feet, the College of Sciences & Technology Building contains nearly 30 labs for teaching and research, as well as classrooms, meeting and study spaces, and a café. UHD envisions the building will be a "model for sustainability in Houston."

Environmental highlights of the building include a 6,000-gallon cistern that provides water for the outdoor urban gardens, and the addition of native grasses in the surrounding landscape to create a micro-pocket prairie and, in effect, an outdoor classroom.

Aside from classes and resources for students and faculty in biology, biotechnology, biological and physical sciences, and chemistry, the building houses UHD's Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability.

The center is "a game changer for UHD initiatives and scholarly activities centered on sustainability," Lisa Morano, director of the Center for Urban Agriculture & Sustainability, says in a release. "It also serves as an example of how planners and architects can incorporate environmentally sound decisions in the design and construction of academic facilities."

Juan Sánchez Muñoz, president of UHD, says the College of Sciences & Technology Building is a hub for academic exploration and a catalyst for community collaboration.

"Its labs and learning spaces will elevate UHD's ability to prepare the next generation of Houston's scientists and innovators. The facility also will serve as a place where Houstonians can gather to address issues affecting our city and to learn how UHD is leading positive change in the region," Muñoz says in a release. "It's a major addition to our campus and an incredible asset to Houston."

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston innovators podcast episode 140

What Houston can expect from its rising innovation district

Sam Dike of Rice Management Company joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the past, present, and future of Houston's rising Ion Innovation District. Photo via rice.edu

Last month, the Ion Houston welcomed in the greater Houston community to showcase the programs and companies operating within the Ion Innovation District — and the week-long Ion Activation Festival spotlighted just the beginning.

The rising district — anchored by the Ion — is a 16-acre project in Midtown Houston owned and operated by Rice Management Company, an organization focused on managing Rice University's $8.1 billion endowment.

"We're chiefly responsible for stewarding the university's endowment and generating returns to support the academic mission of the university," says Samuel Dike, manager of strategic initiatives at RMC, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Part of those returns go to support student scholarships and student success — as well as many of the other academic programs."

"The university sees a dual purpose behind the investing," Dike continues, in addition to focusing on generating returns, RMC's mission is "also to be a valuable partner in Houston's ecosystem and pushing Houston as a global 21st century city."

RMC saw an opportunity a few years back to make an investment in Houston's nascent innovation and tech ecosystem, and announced the plans for the Ion, a 266,000-square-foot innovation hub in an renovated and rehabilitated Sears.

"In some ways innovation is not necessarily about creating something completely new — it's oftentimes building upon something that exists and making it better," Dike says. "I think that's what we've done with the building itself.

"We took something that had really strong bones and a strong identity here in Houston," he continues, "and we did something that's often atypical in Houston and preserved and repurposed it — not an easy logistical or financial decision to make, but we believed it was the best for Houston and for the project."

Now, the Ion District includes the Ion as the anchor, as well as Greentown Houston, which moved into a 40,000-square-foot space in the former Fiesta Mart building, just down the street. While RMC has announced a few other initiatives, the next construction project to be delivered is a 1,500-space parking garage that will serve the district.

"It is not your typical parking garage," Dike says. "The garage will feature a vegetated facade with ground-floor retail and gallery space, as well as EV charging spaces and spaces to feature display spaces for future tech. It's going to be a nice addition to the district."

The new garage will free up surface parking lots that then will be freed up for future construction projects, Dike explains.

He shares more about the past, present, and future of the Ion and the district as a whole on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



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