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Southern Oregon University pursues sustainable strategies in master plan process

Sustainability is one Southern Oregon University's top priorities as the campus begins a 10-year master planning process because of its potential to improve the bottom line of both the environment and the university, said Larry Blake, SOU's vice president of facilities management and planning.

"It's the right thing to do, but also it's a market we'd like to be part of," he said. "We think that will help us attract environmentally conscious students to the university."

SOU President Mary Cullinan recently signed on to the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, Blake said, in which the university promised to pursue climate neutrality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, purchasing energy from renewable sources, encouraging public transportation and green building standards among other sustainability goals.

The university got its first taste of LEED green building construction — which stands for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design — with the Medford Higher Education Center built in conjunction with Rogue Community College in 2008. Once solar panels are installed on the roof, the building will be LEED platinum certified, the highest possible rating based on five categories, such as water efficiency, indoor air quality and reuse of existing building materials, Blake said.

The Oregon University System requires all new buildings to aim for silver-level certification, but Blake has set his sights on gold for upcoming university projects after watching the success of the Higher Education Center.

"I think that whole process changed the way we look at buildings," he said.

The LEED rating system also rewards improvements made to the campus as a whole, such as installing bike lockers and showers at strategic locations across campus and diverting heat from warm areas like dining hall kitchens to warm other building on campus.

Blake is also overseeing the installation of automatic irrigation systems, which will allow the campus to water lawns at night when less water is lost to evaporation, he said.

Eventually, Blake would like the campus to be known as a sustainability leader.

"We're really just starting out right now," he said.

Staff writer Julie French can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.