At a time when the news is full of raging idiots directing their ire at “big” government, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves of the benefits of good government. Take community colleges — provided by our state and local governments to offer financially accessible adult and vocational education, while acting as a funnel into four year colleges for many who might not have had the wherewithal to make it otherwise. Surely an example of government getting it right!

In the case of the  St. Louis Community College (STLCC) Wildwood Campus, government, in the persons of the STLCC leadership, got it even righter than usual.  The Wildwood campus, which opened its first building in 2007, is the first LEED Gold certified building in the St. Louis area, and the first such community college building in the Midwest. Far from being a pie-in-the-sky environmental boondoggle, this innovative campus is the result of a good-management effort to make the most of available financial and physical resources, using them:

…more effectively … to create a healthier and more productive work and learning environment for both present and future generations of students, staff and faculty members, and the local community.

Last Monday, I toured this facility along with other members of the West County Democrats and I can offer my first-hand testimony that the result is truly impressive. (Tours can be scheduled on Wednesdays and there is a kiosk that enables self-directed tours if you are interested in visiting.)  A few examples of the green features:

–A roof garden planted with sedum, a suculant plant which reflects heat in summer while insulating in winter.

–The capacity to “harvest” natural light during day.

–Ceiling mounted reflective devices that optimize artificial light after dark.

–Floating ceilings that utilize a system of fans and intake vents to insure optimal efficiency in the heating and cooling system.

–Carbon dioxide in the interior environment is monitored and oxygen from outside is imported as necessary to insure that the air is always fresh and conducive to human functioning.

I could list features for the next few hours, but I think you get the idea.  The result is a pleasant learning and working environment that is 30% more energy efficient than other code-compliant buildings off its size. Our guide pointed out that this building will very likely recoup its $18,000,000 price-tag in a very few years.

The innovative nature of the campus has affected all aspects of campus life and is not limited to the physical plant. The emphasis on sustainability is omnipresent; the campus schedules speakers, events and programs that emphasize environmental issues. Even the eating utensils that are used in the food service area will be, beginning next year, compostable — no detail is too humble. Students are active participants in the environmental mission, and have formed an environmental club with an educational goal — one of their initiatives is apparent in the trash bin labeling (as opposed to recycling bins) which are marked “Landfill” rather than “trash” as a consciousness raising device.

Given this track-record for environmental leadership it is not at all surprising to learn that the STLCC has received $500,000 dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to train and place a nearly 300 students in green jobs.  Clearly, the publicly funded STLCC is forging a path into a green future; one that we can only hope private enterprise in the region will have the wisdom  to follow–although a little push in the right direction via good clean energy legislation such as the ACES bill wouldn’t hurt.