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SJU receives $1M federal grant

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St. John’s University has landed a $1 million grant from the federal government, the largest award issued to a university in New York under last year’s federal stimulus act, for energy conservation projects that officials said will help the school significantly decrease its carbon footprint.

The $1 million grant, which is matched by another $1 million from St. John’s, will help the university to implement a wide range of environmental initiatives, including upgrading lighting systems and the installation of new exhaust air system controls.

“We’re trying to change the culture of students coming out of high schools so future generations think about energy a little differently,” said Brij Anand, vice president for facilities at SJU, who was one of the key players in putting the grant application together. “We’re programming future generations in a way that they’re sensitive to the whole issue of global warming and environmental stewardship.”

Anand and other SJU officials noted sustainable living is playing a big role at the school these days. Alongside the grant, there are a number of student-led environmental initiatives, including running an on-campus organic garden that provides food for area soup kitchens.

Prior to winning the federal funds, the school’s associate controller, Bernadette Lavin, and director of energy and environmental conservation, Tom Goldsmith, oversaw an energy and water audit to ensure SJU conservation projects would stand out among competitors for the grant.

St. John’s began seriously discussing creating a carbon reduction program several years ago and in March 2010 its board of trustees approved an approximately $25 million energy capital master plan, of which the grant will help in part to fund. This plan stemmed from Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2007 call for city institutions to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2017.

SJU’s energy plan is expected to be fully implemented within the next four years and includes upgrading air conditioning systems so the AC will turn on only when needed instead of consistently running, Anand said.

“We are also upgrading lighting systems and installing occupancy sensors so if people aren’t there, the lights won’t be on,” Anand said. “We hope this will allow us to cut back on that wasted energy.”

The overall program is expected to reduce SJU’s annual utility costs by $3.2 million, and the benefits from what the grant will help to fund will reduce utility costs by about $500,000 each year, officials said.

“These projects will save us money,” Lavin said. “It will improve learning and living environments of students and staff.”

Besides having landed the largest grant issued by the federal government to a New York university, SJU was the first private university to sign an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to show continuous improvement environmentally over five years.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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