Dominican earns green by going green
Monica Halloran, associate director of academic advising for the School of Leadership and Continuing Studies at Dominican University, talks to children from the Goedert Early Childhood Education Center about the Dominican garden. | Contributed photo
Updated: October 7, 2012 7:11AM
RIVER FOREST — Sometimes, going green literally pays off.
Dominican University has received a $132,000 rebate from Nicor Gas after installing an energy-efficient heating system. The $348,000 investment gave the university an alternative to relying on its massive boilers to provide hot water and air conditioning to fewer students during the summer months. In the first year of operation, the university used 132,000 fewer therms of gas.
This earned Dominican a $132,000 rebate from Nicor Gas, a dollar-per-therm payback that is part of Nicor’s energy efficiency program.
The new heating system is only one part of Dominican’s sweeping 4RFuture sustainability plan, designed to work in concert with Oak Park and River Forest’s PlanIt Green program for community-wide benefits. Some elements of the plan were already in operation when it was formally adopted last spring.
In fact, sustainability has been a priority at the university since its earliest days.
“When we build, we build for the long term,” said Amy McCormack, Dominican senior vice president of finance and administration, who has spearheaded the university’s recent conservation efforts.
“For example, a cistern was designed to provide the first buildings on the campus with a supply of rainwater, and though it eventually fell into disuse, we were able to repair it four years ago and use decades of collected water for irrigating the campus and for air-conditioning,” McCormack said.
“Also, the sisters that founded Dominican were always very conscientious about cutting down on waste, re-using materials as much as possible and constructing efficient buildings for their time.”
In addition to making long-standing recycling and conservation efforts more front and center with staff and students, the university has committed to major programs to conserve water and energy, reduce its carbon footprint and educate students about ecology and sustainability.
• Cistern and irrigation: Dominican uses the large underground cistern built in the 1920s to collect rainwater, to irrigate the campus and to air condition its Parmer Hall, built in conformance with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria. Use of the cistern has allowed the university to reduce its purchased water by 4 to 6 million gallons per year.
• Permeable pavers: This engineered drainage system of stone, filter fabric and topping on Dominican parking lots cleanses rain water and delivers it via a bioswale to mature trees at root level. The system also reduces the amount of water sent into the village storm sewer system by more than 3.6 million gallons per year.
• Energy conservation: Automation systems controlling energy settings in campus buildings, plus occupancy sensors, efficient windows, solar power-lights, day lighting and heat recovery saves 148,000 watts per year.
• Community garden: Located near the university’s Early Childhood Education Center, the community garden is intended to educate children – who earn a share of the crop – and help the community. Any excess harvest is donated to the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry.
• Transportation: To cut down on the use of cars and promote public transportation, Dominican has made shuttle buses available to nearby bus and train lines. The university has also instituted Bike DU, which allows students and staff to check out bicycles for a day or a semester.