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Earth Day and a Visit to the 2016 Winner of the EBSCO Solar Grant

Posted April 21, 2017 in Events & News

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Each year, the ER&L Conference is held in Austin, Texas. This year, it provided EBSCO’s Vice President of Communications, Kathleen McEvoy, a unique opportunity to visit the winner of the 2016 EBSCO Solar Grant. Austin Community College’s Highland Learning Center Library was awarded a $150,000 grant to install a solar array to offset its energy costs.

The Highland Campus is located in the former Highland Mall and is one of ACC’s largest campuses. Phase one is now open and can serve up to 6,000 students. Phase two is underway and will double the space available and expand opportunities for students and the community with a Regional Workforce Research and Development Center, health sciences and STEM labs, incubator spaces and a culinary and hospitality center. The campus is leading the revitalization of the Highland neighborhood, a low socioeconomic area of Austin, and establishing itself as an important resource for the local community and students.


The college is home to the ACCelerator, the largest college computer lab in Texas and possibly the United States with more than 600 computers. The ACCelerator works in tandem with the campus library to provide innovative teaching and learning opportunities for students and both are bright, modern spaces that invite collaboration and provide information access.

One of the most interesting things about the Highland Campus is its dedication to sustainability, which is a core philosophy of ACC itself. ACC has adopted a series of sustainable practices for its 11 campuses and employs a Sustainability Steward who coordinates with Green Teams on each campus.

Here is the list of sustainability practices from the library’s EBSCO Solar submission:

  1. Incorporate the principles of energy efficiency and sustainability in all capital projects, renovation projects, operations and maintenance within budgetary constraints and programmatic requirements.
  2. Minimize the use of non-renewable energy sources by creating a diversified (portfolio) approach to energy use, including the use of local renewable energy as well as conservation measures that reduce energy consumption.
  3. Incorporate and promote transportation alternatives and scheduling practices that reduce the number of individual vehicle trips to and from College facilities.
  4. Track, report and minimize greenhouse gas emissions attributed to College operations.
  5. Minimize the amount of waste sent to landfill which is generated by the College.
  6. Utilize the College’s purchasing power to meet its sustainability objectives.

The Highland Campus is a great example of these efforts in practice. Immediately upon driving up to the campus, you see two large cisterns, part of a rainwater collection system that offsets the college’s water usage in areas where drinkable water is not necessary such as flushing toilets.


Also outside is a bike repair station to encourage people to use their bikes.


The building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certified for sustainable design and construction and has been awarded the Associated Builders and Contractors Central Texas Chapter award for Excellence in Construction; the Urban Land Institute’s 2015 Impact Award for Innovation; and the design award from the American Institute of Architects Austin Chapter.

Once inside, the former J.C. Penny location has been transformed into a light and airy space anchored by the ACCelerator, the learning center library and the “Social Stairs.”


This design element replaced the store escalators and encourages small gathering. Thanks to a large screen at the bottom of the steps, this area can also be used for presentations.

A large sky light running almost the length of the building was added to bring light into the former mall building, which had no windows.

Another unique feature is simple but sends a strong message. Recycling cans and trash cans are centralized and trash cans are labeled “Landfill” so users make the connection between what they are putting in the cans and where it ends up.


The college shares its sustainability efforts with students and visitors by visually highlighting the technology used. In addition to highlighting the various types of projects incorporated into the design, the wall also includes a real-time digital media display of is kilowatt usage and other metrics which highlight the building’s performance. The solar installation will be the next step for the campus and will tie into the visual display.


Right now the roof, a special material that helps manage the heat, is ready for a 50,000 Kilowatt system that will be a perfect addition to the efforts already in a part of ACC Highland’s sustainability practices.


We will be sharing the installation process and providing updates as the project commences.


The 2017 EBSCO Solar Grant Program is currently underway. Two $100,000 grants will be awarded this year. Submissions are due April 28th and the winners will be announced online and at ALA-Annual on June 23rd.

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