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STUDENT GREEN FEE SPENDING

$150,000 in student green fees spent on pavilion

sustainability dollars spent on project that had 'no energy saving' aspects

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$150,000 Dining Pavilion

The new dining pavilion, which stands between Manning Hall and the Administration Building, cost more than $150,000 to build. Every penny used to build it came from the pockets of students.

The University of Memphis used student money designated for projects that push the campus to go green to build an outdoor dining area where Aramark, a multi-billion dollar food corporation, could sell food.

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The new dining pavilion, which stands between Manning Hall and the Administration Building, cost more than $150,000 to build.

Every penny of it came from the Green Fee — the mandatory $10-a-semester charge all full-time students pay. This fee is supposed to “support projects and practices that make our campus more energy efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable.”

However the recently completed pavilion promised “no energy saving” aspects when originally proposed, according to documents obtained through the state’s open records law.

Now some students are questioning the use of sustainability dollars to build the new outdoor dining area.

“I wouldn’t really call it green, and it doesn’t really look like it’s worth that much money — not that I’m an expert,” Denise Viner, junior at the university, said about the new pavilion while seated under it.

“I think they could have used the money for something different that might have had an immediate impact on the environment,” she said.



What the University could’ve used the money for instead.

The University of Memphis spent $151,649 of student green fee money to build the dining pavilion. With those same funds the U of M could have financed other green initiatives several times over. While these ongoing projects didn’t ask for this much money, here’s what they could have bought with the funds.

Tree info

Plant a forest of 151 tulip poplar trees and commemorate each with a cement and bronze plaque

Green Interns Into

Pay 80 students through the Green Internship Program, or fund the program for two full years.

Garden info

Double the size of the main campus garden and nearly triple the garden at the Lambuth campus in Jackson

Bike info

Buy 291 bicycles for the campus bike share program and still have enough money to buy helmets, cable locks, taillights and head lamps for each bike



Student pay the fees, the University chooses the projects

If students felt the pavilion was a poor use of green fee dollars, there was little they could have done about it.

Only four of the 10 voting members on the committee that doles out cash from the green fee budget are students.

The green fee committee doesn’t just approve projects — they also decide how much money to hand out. Between school years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, the committee dispersed more than $1 million.

“Projects should provide or demonstrate a specific energy or environmental benefit." − Tennessee Board of Regents guidelines on using green fee funds

The committee’s ratio of students to university employees is similar to many other boards on campus, explained Dan Bureau, director of Student Affairs Learning and Assessment and chair of the green fee committee.

Bureau said he had no control over how many students were on the committee.

“The committee appropriately works with the students on the committee so that all are well informed and they can be good stewards of the students’ money,” Bureau said. “I don’t know if it’s fair or not. Maybe we should have more students. That would require the process that’s been set up to be evaluated.”

Two years and $150,000 in the making

The green fee committee initially approved $95,000 to spend on building the dining pavilion — nearly 20 percent of 2013-2014’s green fee budget.

However, this amount would barely cover two-thirds the cost of completing the project.

A few months after the pavilion was approved but well before construction began, project proposers were asking for more money.

Less than $3,500 had been spent and construction had not yet been begun when Tony Poteet, assistant vice president of campus planning and design, requested an additional $45,000 to finish the pavilion, according to a memo to the green fee committee dated Oct. 18, 2013.

Despite the price jump, the committee did not consider defunding the project, according to Bureau.

“Use the green fee to cover the cost of making a facility sustainable, not so much to build a facility. Building a facility with those funds would be abusing the system.” − John McFadden, chief executive officer at the Tennessee Environmental Council

Bureau was not the chair of the committee when the project was originally approved, but he was chair when they chose to increase funding.

“The project had been started and people were excited about it. They thought it would be a good addition, whether or not — as you pointed out — it’s truly a green project… I actually think it is, given the resources that were used and intent behind it,” Bureau said. “But there wasn’t a discussion. We thought it would be important to continue a project that had been approved.”

The committee agreed to set aside $49,000 to finish the project, according to records dated April 2014. But even that estimate wasn’t enough. In May 2014, Bureau requested $56,649.

The final cost to build the pavilion was $151,649, making it the second most expensive single project to be funded through the green fee at that time.

By comparison, the committee allotted about $60,000 to switch the university’s vans and trucks to biofuel and propane, according to documents dated 2013 and 2014.

A press release on the dining pavilion said the project cost only $130,000. However, this number conflicts with records held by the green fee committee.

Most expensive projects funded through the green fee

The dining pavilion was the second most expensive project funded by the green fee. The dark green is amount of money it received in 2013 and the light green (on top) is what it received in 2014. By contrast the most expensive green fee project, the Campus Sustainably initiative, recycled nearly 1 million pounds of garbage in 2013 and 2014.

The purpose of the pavilion

The idea to use the student sustainability dollars to build an outdoor dining area where students could hang out and Aramark, a $13 billion corporation, could sell food came from Poteet and Peter Groenendyk.

Groenendyk, former associate dean of students, no longer works for the university.

However, Poteet has worked for the U of M for more than four decades and could not be reached for comment despite several emails and phone calls during the last two weeks.

“Food services will need to provide funding for an auxiliary cooking and servicing building adjacent to the pavilion, or will use a food cart for serving purposes,” according to the original proposal. "No energy savings, although LED lights are planned for low energy usage.”

Poteet’s proposal included pavilion blueprints and a twelve-point plan – two parts of which intended “food services” to supply the area with food. The university contracts all food services to Aramark. They are the only company allowed to sell food on campus.

“The pavilion will enhance student life, outdoor participation, socialization and the food offerings will be healthy items,” according to the original proposal.

While financing the pavilion was left up to the green fee, it was also assumed that Aramark would supply the area with some additional infrastructure.

“Food services will need to provide funding for an auxiliary cooking and servicing building adjacent to the pavilion, or will use a food cart for serving purposes,” according to the original proposal.

At this time, Aramark has not built any food service infrastructure. Despite emails and phone calls, Aramark did not comment on this story.

What’s so green about the pavilion?

It’s difficult to say if the outdoor dining area meets the standards for green fee use set up by the U of M.

“The purpose of the fee is to support projects and practices that make our campus more energy efficient, environmentally friendly and sustainable,” according to the university’s website.

Tennessee has rules on how student green fee money is spent.

“Projects should provide or demonstrate a specific energy or environmental benefit, be technically and economically feasible, be cost effective to operate and maintain, be consistent with campus standards and master plan,” according to the Tennessee Board of Regents website.

But between these two guidelines, there is a lot of leeway.

Often it doesn’t take much for projects to be labeled sustainable, explained Braden Allenby, director of the Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management at Arizona State.

Allenby did not comment specifically on the dining pavilion, but he said, “It’s possible for a university to build a project that has some environmental benefits but may not be the best use of that type of money.”

What's so green about the pavilion?

A press release issued in August said the pavilion only cost $130,000 while records held by the University said it cost more than $150,000 to build. That sames press release said the pavilion’s flooring allows “rain water to percolate to the roots of the giant oak tree that provides shade for the area…This development reduces the need to construct additional indoor areas which would require HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning.)” While the original proposals offered no energy savings.

“A structure could be built and no one could say it’s not sustainable or environmentally friendly because they can argue that it eliminated a parking lot that collected chemicals,” he said. “Could they have also used that money to develop an environmentally friendly way of disposing of laboratory chemicals? Yes. People could argue that one is better than the other.”

Sustainability is managing the natural resources, said John McFadden, chief executive officer at the Tennessee Environmental Council. It’s more than just one project. Sustainability must be adopted in all aspects of running a campus, he said.

“There is a lot a college campus can do to manage their natural resources,” McFadden said. “For example, are they composting? Are they replacing all of their lights with LEDs? They make urinals that use no water — are they using those? Long term these are going to be the most cost effective path.”

New projects should be looked at with some skepticism, McFadden said.

“Use the green fee to cover the cost of replacing lights with LEDs, sure. But using it to buy 2x4s? Not so much,” he said. “Use the green fee to cover the cost of making a facility sustainable, not so much to build a facility. Building a facility with those funds would be abusing the system.”

When the pavilion was proposed, it offered “no energy savings, although LED lights are planned for low energy usage.” The proposal also said construction would use recycled materials.

Now built, the pavilion has ceiling fans, electrical outlets and has become a popular spot for students.

A press release issued in August said the pavilion’s flooring allows “rain water to percolate to the roots of the giant oak tree that provides shade for the area…This development reduces the need to construct additional indoor areas which would require HVAC (heating ventilating and air conditioning.)”

The pavilion did not take money from another, more sustainable project, said Amelia Mayahi, sustainability coordinator at the U of M.

“No projects were turned away for funding because of the pavilion,” Mayahi said. “The committee may have reconsidered the project if they had a lot of great project ideas and not enough funds.”

Mayahi said the pavilion is a great use of the green fee because it converted a desolate area on campus to a place where students can enjoy nature. When people can enjoy nature, they will be more likely to support sustainability projects and consider the environment first, she said.

“There is a social aspect to sustainability,” Mayahi said.

Other possibilities

The university could have built nearly two and a half campus gardens with the more than $150,000 it designated to build the new outdoor dining area.

In fact, the new dining pavilion and the campus garden, known as the TIGUrS garden, competed for the same green fee funding.

In 2013 and 2014, Karyl Buddington, research professor at the U of M and founder of the garden, was seeking funding to build an outdoor classroom in the garden.

But the committee rejected the idea twice.

The class room would have consisted of a deck with a canopy made from recycled plastic and 10 movable benches with planters. The estimated cost of the classroom was about $60,000.

“Both times there was a debate that the classroom would cost too much money,” Buddington said.

The campus garden has become well-known for its yearly Earth Day celebrations and other sustainability events. It has been featured many times on the U of M’s Tiger Blue Goes Green website.

“We did request money to buy outdoor bleachers, so if we wanted to have a class we could set them up and put them wherever we need to,” she said. “We got the money for that. Sometimes when you can’t get what you want, you have to figure out how you can achieve your goal.”

Buddington said she likes the dining pavilion and said she planned to use it in the future for fresh food demonstrations.

“Sustainably is sort of a non-term. It depends on who you talk to and it depends on what your idea of sustainability really is,” Buddington said. “For me it’s having resources you can use and reuse, or resources that you can make more of…If it’s a place where students come to hang out and eat, I think it’s fine.”

At this time, Aramark has not built any food service infrastructure. Despite emails and phone calls, Aramark did not comment on this story.

 

The University of Memphis used student money designated for projects that push the campus to go green to build an outdoor dining area where Aramark, a multi-billion dollar food corporation, could sell food.

(3) comments

prazzynoor

Bluff city bash has been poorly organized the past two years I have been involved. It is truly possible that the fault is on SAC for lack of communication and not on the artist. If this much money was spent, a lawsuit should be in place. This article reeks of uninformed writers and needs to be reassessed. I was interviewed specifically for this article and my portion describing the problems with SAC was taken out. This is a biased article simply written to protect SAC, which is a garbage, waste of our student money, organization.Costa Calida

prazzynoor

Bluff city bash has been poorly organized the past two years I have been involved. It is truly possible that the fault is on SAC for lack of communication and not on the artist. If this much money was spent, a lawsuit should be in place. This article reeks of uninformed writers and needs to be reassessed. I was interviewed specifically for this article and my portion describing the problems with SAC was taken out. This is a biased article simply written to protect SAC, which is a garbage, waste of our student money, organization.minneapolis wordpress expert

Tom

Thanks to the Daily Helmsman for providing the university community with this kind of information. Whether you agree or disagree with whether this was a good use of the money, it is information the community needs to know about so people can form their own opinions.

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