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N.M. training center hits platinum

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Randy Grissom, president of Santa Fe Community College (New Mexico), give a tour of the college’s Trades and Advanced Technology Center to Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, deputy secretary at the U.S. Energy Department.

Photo: Chris Corrie

​When it comes to green job training and sustainability, Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) in New Mexico walks the talk.

This week, the college garnered major kudos for its Trades and Advanced Technology Center when it received the U.S. Green Building Council – LEED Platinum certification. The designation is a high point for a facility that was built in 2011 to propel students into newly developing careers in the green economy.

Located on 366 high-desert acres, SFCC was among the first campuses in the country to adopt a sustainability plan in tandem with their campus master plan. The plan, approved in 2009, called to use more renewable energy to lower the college’s carbon footprint and provide strategic educational opportunities.

“Before the labor shortages and technology gaps in emerging green-collar jobs, it was evident that the future success of our students in securing higher paying jobs would be shaped by their knowledge of sustainable technologies in building sciences and construction, engineering, plumbing and HVAC, solar and water resource management, and alternative fuels,” said SFCC President Randy Grissom.

A comprehensive curriculum

The center offers a broad curriculum that includes associate in applied science degrees in building science and construction technologies, drafting and engineering technologies, and greenhouse management and sustainable technologies, among others. It also offers specialty certifications in biofuels and biodiesel/alternative fuels, green building construction and systems, residential energy auditing and inspection, green infrastructure/IT, solar energy, water treatment operations and resource management.

All degree-seeking students at SFCC, approximately 12,000 per year, must enroll in the Environmental Technologies course, which introduces them to sustainable concepts.

Resources: The American Association of Community Colleges' SEED Center

One of the more unique concentrations in SFCC’s building science degree plan is adobe construction, a highly sought skill by New Mexico’s construction industry. Last month, SFCC renewed its three-year agreement with the American Rainwater Catchment Association to provide a 16-week Active Water Harvesting and Distribution Systems course that meets industry standards to become the first national educational institution to accredit rainwater harvesters. The recently introduced aquaponics program has a waiting list.      

“SFCC programs are built by including input from local employers and regional experts,” said Camilla Bustamante, dean of trades and advanced technology. “Students know that an education from SFCC can help them gain meaningful employment.”

A sustainable learning environment

Earning LEED Platinum certification was a goal from the day of conception for the center. Designed by a Santa Fe architecture firm, the $12-million, 45,336-square-foot facility has:

  • Rooftop teaching decks, classrooms, a demonstration theater,and  technologies and technical workshops and labs
  • A solar thermal and photovoltaic rooftop system
  • Heliodynamic concentrating solar collectors for hot water to provide heating through a closed-loop system
  • Rainwater catchment for lavatory use

More than 15 percent of the project’s energy cost is offset by renewable site-generated energy, according to the college. In addition, more than 20 percent of the building materials for the center came from businesses located within 500 miles.

Policymakers take notice

The Trades and Advanced Technology Center has been visited recently by municipal, state and federal officials, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, who toured the facility and participated in a roundtable on engaging diverse communities in energy workforce opportunities.

“The private sector needs a skilled workforce, and there are tremendous opportunities in renewables,” Randall said, noting that the solar sector is generating jobs at “an astonishing rate.”

Grissom noted that the LEED recognition is something to cheer, but it’s the programs to help students land good-paying jobs that’s a priority.

“It is our mission to continue to advance the conversation and the education that will give students both the learning opportunities and the leadership skills to excel in business and life,” he said. “Being recognized for our facilities is great, but providing an affordable college education that equips our graduates for life is the best outcome we can deliver.”

Marek is principal at Marek & Co., a consulting and communications firm in Santa Fe, N.M. 

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