Columbia, local 32bj forge new green working relationship
Date: August 26, 2009
Bring together an institution that's passionate about the environment with another organization that's equally committed, and "greening" for both groups rises yet another level.
For Columbia and Local 32BJ, a project known simply as the Green Building Initiative
has trained 14 superintendents representing 32 buildings from the Morningside and Medical School campuses, while showcasing the strengths of university-union collaboration. The Initiative is the first Columbia and 32BJ collaboration on a project of this scale, says Mark Kerman, Assistant Vice President, Residential Operations.
The off-campus buildings involved are mostly graduate and faculty housing.
The Initiative was developed by the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ about five years ago. Its goal was - and still is - to give its building superintendent members the latest information and techniques for sustainable management.
Over the years, classes have covered everything related to green buildings, says Nicholas Prigo, an instructor and program coordinator for Local 32BJ's Thomas Shortman Training Fund. "About a year ago," he says, "we began to pull together disparate green building knowledge and make the ultimate course."
Course design has evolved over the past six months, in collaboration with Local 32 BJ building owners and property managers that include Columbia supers and handypeople. Nelson Falcon, Director for Residential Services, Columbia Facilities, was on the design committee and has had the major role in coordinating the University's participation.
Columbia's Residential and Commercial Operations Directors, Assistant Directors, and Human Resources personnel, as well as senior managers - including Matthew Early and Kerman - came into play.
Columbia volunteered to run one of two pilot programs for the new course, and selected the supers, according to Falcon, "because of their demonstrated commitment to energy conservation and willingness to participate in the class.
"We also felt that this group could make a significant impact on reducing consumption and our carbon footprint because they operate fairly large buildings."
The program comprised 40 hours of course work, over eight hours on five consecutive Wednesdays beginning June 17. A significant part of Columbia's contribution was its agreement to give the participating superintendents time off for the program. Classroom space at Pupin Hall was arranged at no charge except for technical hookups by Nicole Thompson, Assistant Director Residential Services, Facilities, and Garrett McDonough, Scheduling Coordinator at the Business School.
Field trips were also a key part of the curriculum. The group spent one afternoon, for example, at 425 121st St., where participant Billy Lala has been the super for eight years.
Anthony Zotto, the instructor and a specialist in heating, ventilation and air conditioning, says it's important to have classroom time - the basics and principles, but it's also important to make the training "realistic."
At the site visit, Zotto and the training group talked about inspecting exhaust fans and doing efficiency testing on boilers. Zotto points out that although supers may not be doing some of these kinds of jobs themselves, gaining information helps them keep outside contractors in line and be able to interpret significant information from such areas as boiler rooms.
Loretta Zuk, superintendent at 547 Riverside Drive, was especially pleased with the HVAC instruction and field trip. "Anthony (Zotto) was personable and easy to talk to, and I can't say enough about the teachers.
"They're very good with the working class - us - and it's great Columbia is bringing this to us, allowing us to go on working hours, making it easier for us."
Zuk is about to mark her 23rd consecutive year at Columbia. She's been taking Local 32BJ courses for 20 years. "I want to keep up my own knowledge," she says. A year ago, Zuk's training resulted in her New York Accredited Realty Manager certification. "It's not recognition we want," she says. "We just want to feel good about ourselves."
Zuk says her building is more than 100 years old, and "not as easy to covert" as some younger ones. She says it's about 20 percent green, and she continues to try to raise that figure. "We're recycling the best we can, and turning off lights," she says. On Zuk's short-term green wish list, budget permitting, is more efficient hallway lighting, perhaps using timers or sensors.
Local 32BJ hopes this pilot program with Columbia and the other New York City volunteer group, Douglas Elliman Property Management, will help reach its goal of training 1,000 "green supers" in one year. This includes partnering with the Building Performance Institute on a test at the end of each training program. Participants who successfully complete the test will receive certification and national recognition as an energy efficient building operator.
At Columbia, Falcon says the hope is to continue to roll out the program, which has raised a lot of interest, to more and more supers and handypeople.
Perhaps a year from now, Falcon says, Facilities will begin evaluating data from the buildings whose supers have been involved and get helpful information in areas such as energy use.
Bob Muldoon, a Local 32BJ coordinator for the project, describes Columbia as a pioneer in this type of collaborative training, especially in empowering staff with the tools and strategies to make buildings more energy efficient, healthier and less polluting.
"It's a great opportunity for all of us," he says. "We're excited to work with Columbia."