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Building a Sustainable Student Experience

From repurposing existing spaces to implementing green solutions in new campus projects, New York Tech’s newly developed sustainability action plan prioritizes the student experience.

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New York Tech created multiple outdoor gathering spaces on campus, outfitted with WiFi and seating for students to study and socialize.

Two unrelated and unforeseen events played a major role in influencing the development of New York Tech’s new three-year sustainability action plan and the university’s goal to make “greener” planning decisions: When remnants of Hurricane Ida brought heavy rain to the New York tri-state area in 2021, it also provided a physical reminder of the growing impact of climate change, as both its Long Island and New York City campuses experienced impact from the storm that interrupted regular campus operation. At the same time, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic had already begun to reinforce the importance of outdoor space and nature, as voiced by the university’s own students.

“This generation of students is completely aware that climate change has transformed the way we all need to live our lives and for them, sustainability is like air.”

“New York Tech asked students for their ideas, concerns, and feedback through academic town halls, surveys, and tabling sessions. One common topic that students addressed was the need for lounge/leisure space, and New York Tech took the step forward by enhancing and renovating spaces at both of our campuses,” notes Mohammad Tariq Jamal, president of New York Tech’s Graduate Student Association. “We really appreciate that our requests were heard and that this was all done in a sustainable fashion.”

“In the big picture, we’re interested in meeting sustainability goals in many ways; decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels, requiring less artificial lighting and reducing water use, increasing our use of solar energy, and engaging more in the outdoors,” says Suzanne Musho, AIA, NCARB, New York Tech vice president for real estate development and sustainable capital planning and chief architect. “And, at the same time, we want to improve facilities and resources for our students in ways that are most meaningful to them, especially in response to recent events.”

Recycling and Upcycling: Part of the Plan

While making necessary facilities updates in response to the pandemic, Musho and her team found ways to implement much-needed campus improvements and respond to students’ requests for more space to study and socialize. In their approaches to update both indoor and outdoor spaces, they utilized sustainable and more energy-efficient practices while developing a longer-term sustainability action plan that relies on creativity and innovation.

One of the biggest projects for the university will commence this fall: a new, approximately 20,000-square-foot Biomedical Research and Innovation Center (BRIC), which will employ the university’s first geothermal heating and cooling system. Working with Studio Gang, an architecture firm known for innovative sustainable conservation and reuse designs, Musho says the center will be constructed on the footprint of an existing academic building, and through “tectonic building techniques,” will reuse existing structural elements, including the concrete slab, as well as steel and concrete structure throughout. “We aspire to achieve LEED Gold certification,” she says of the $16 million project, which received grant funding of just over $1 million from Empire State Development Corp.

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The new 20,000-square-foot interdisciplinary Biomedical Research and Innovation Center will employ sustainable design and construction, including New York Tech’s first geothermal heating and cooling systems, a water reuse plan, and large-scale windows providing natural lighting.

The modern building design features large scale windows and will be situated to take advantage of natural light. “The building is designed to take advantage of the beauty of campus and it compliments the ecology,” she says.

The building will make use of gray water from a new water treatment plant, also expected to break ground later this year. New York Tech received a $2 million grant from New York State’s Higher Education Capital Matching Grant Program and will invest an additional $6.5 million into the project. The new water treatment plan will have a decreased footprint and an increased impact, through more advanced water treatment technology.

In addition to its conservation impact, the facility will include a Bioengineering Research and Training Lab, providing an onsite research facility for students and faculty with a long history of expertise in this area. It will also allow for expanded curricular offerings in this critical sustainability discipline. “This combined project will educate and help prepare students for a world in which resources are increasingly scarce and broadens the positive ecological and environmental impact students can have on the community and the world,” says Musho.

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Recent renovations were made with sustainability in mind: energy-efficient lighting, upgraded HVAC systems, and recycled materials for floors and other areas.

Multiple buildings on campus have already been renovated for new uses, using sustainability guidelines for energy-efficient lighting and HVAC that provides high quality indoor air as well as flooring and other materials that use high recycled content. In addition, in fall 2021, New York Tech installed energy meters in buildings on both Long Island and Manhattan campuses. The data gathered will inform the university in developing an energy-usage profile and ways to reduce it. Understanding New York State goals to use 70% electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040, New York Tech is developing a strategy to assess these goals on campus.

As part of the overall sustainability action plan, Musho says any major renovation project is now looked at both through the lens of sustainability, as well as student experience. For instance, the BRIC contains state-of-the-art research labs and equipment, but also has 3,000 square feet of study and social space for students. The relocated main research library now contains large student lounges and a café.

Shifting Gears, Making Connections

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A new outdoor gathering area in the center of campus will connect the university’s community with nature.

Musho says that among the pandemic’s many outcomes was increasing the awareness of the importance of outdoor space and the communion with nature. “Reimagining campus planning became a jumping-off point for defining our responsibility to the ecology of the campus,” she says. “The Long Island campus has more than 80 bird species—we also have deer, fox, and wetland environments with frogs, turtles, and fish. Being stewards of their habitats is in everyone’s best interest.”

New York Tech worked with student groups, and all departments within the university, to determine priorities and focused on upgrading outdoor spaces, including installing powerful outdoor wireless and creating “parklets” throughout campus and provide outdoor seating in any existing green or natural clearing.

The university also took advantage of its renovation needs to upgrade outdoor plaza areas. At one location, in the center of the campus, New York Tech is adding an outdoor amphitheater space and enhancing a pond area, thereby creating a spectacular outdoor gathering area for the entire university community. Landscaping designs utilized plants with restorative properties that provide much-needed natural drainage. The area is adjacent to the campus’ “Healing Path,” created by medical students in 2017 as a space for decompression and self-reflection.

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Created by medical students, the Healing Path is a space for decompression and self-reflection.

A Natural Path

At New York Tech, sustainability goes hand in hand with health and wellness. Certified Forest Therapist Linda Lombardo leads two-hour forest therapy walks on the Long Island campus for community members to learn about and experience the benefits of the natural flora and fauna. Musho hopes to offer a similar experience for New York City students in Central Park.

The university also paid homage to its woodlands, creating a connection between its city and suburban campuses through a unique art exhibit showcasing sculpture created from felled trees. The inaugural exhibit of the Woodland Art Collection, “Art, Health and Wellness: The Power of Nature,” features original sculptures by Emilie Brzezinski and is on display at the new Nada Marie Anid, Ph.D. Art Gallery and Student Lounge on the New York City campus.

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The Woodlands Art Collection, on display at the New York City campus, showcases sculpture created from felled trees—showcasing the connection between art, health, and wellness.

Meanwhile, a community garden on the Long Island campus provides opportunities for students to experience nature while supplying vegetables, fruits, and herbs to New York Tech’s Bear Bytes initiative, which provides free food and other wellness resources to students.

Letting Students Be the Guide

Living in concert with the planet, and not against it, is the underlying theme of the new sustainability action plan. Grassroots initiatives driven by New York Tech students include a bike share program, enhanced recycling and composting efforts, exploring the removal of single-use plastics on campus, and a Sustainability Town Hall to discuss and prioritize other ideas.

“This generation of students is completely aware that climate change has transformed the way we all need to live our lives and for them, sustainability is like air,” says Musho. “So, when we talk about enhancing the student experience, these types of initiatives aren’t an option, they’re a necessity.”

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