Energy project to start at senior senator's command Commencement weekend

Topics: Geothermal, Sustainability/Environment, Administrative

May 4, 2009

Construction of the country's largest geothermal heating and cooling system is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, May 9. U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) will ceremonially control the drilling machine that will drive the first of up to 4,000 boreholes required by the project. 

Within a decade, the university expects to heat and cool via geothermal means more than 40 buildings on its 660-acre campus, realizing significant annual energy savings and cutting carbon emissions by approximately 80,000 tons per year.

Lugar, a proponent of greater U.S. energy efficiency and independence, will be on hand for the unusual groundbreaking by virtue of his presence as the principal speaker at Ball State's 155th Commencement exercises, scheduled for 10 that morning on the Arts Terrace. President Jo Ann M. Gora will confer degrees upon approximately 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students at the annual ceremony, where Lugar also will be presented with the President's Medal of Distinction.

Drilling of the geothermal project's initial borehole will take place at the location of the first of three planned "energy fields" at the heart of the proposed system, this one situated at the north end of the campus near Anthony Apartments, west of Carmichael Hall.

Cost for the project is estimated at $65 million to $70 million. University officials anticipate a highly competitive bid process due to the current economic climate that could result in a highly favorable final cost.

Aggressive energy action

Now the senior Republican member of the U.S. Senate, Lugar is sponsor of the Energy Patriot Award, given to individuals and organizations that have demonstrated leadership and initiative in taking concrete action to improve America's energy security. Ball State's Council on the Environment, established in 1991 and the longest-standing green committee within Indiana's higher education community, was recognized by the senator with a Patriot Award in August 2007 for promoting environmental sustainability as well as improved energy efficiency at all levels of the university.

The geothermal plan, when fully implemented, promises to slash Ball State's energy costs by an estimated $2 million annually while reducing the university's overall carbon footprint by roughly half.

Noting that in the next few decades worldwide energy demands are expected to rise by as much as 20 percent, and U.S. energy demands by up to 30 percent, Lugar has warned, "In the absence of revolutionary changes in energy policy, we will be risking multiple hazards for our country that could constrain living standards, undermine our foreign policy goals and leave us highly vulnerable to economic and political disasters with an almost [catastrophic] impact."

However, he also cites the more positive news of fresh research indicating that the growth rate in worldwide energy consumption could be cut in half over the next 15 years if households, commercial enterprises and industry take aggressive energy efficiency actions.

"Current U.S. energy consumption is unsustainable and poses numerous threats to our national security and economic prosperity," emphasized Lugar, adding that the threat of climate change has been made worse by inefficient and unclean use of nonrenewable energy.

Similar sentiments — particularly the uncertain availability and cost of future fuel sources, compounded by a recessionary economy and the likelihood of stricter air quality standards — moved the university's Board of Trustees in February to green light the bold geothermal initiative. University administrators later received approval from state officials to redirect $41.8 million in bond funds raised earlier for a more conventional replacement of Ball State's four aging, coal-fired boilers, thus ensuring a prompt start on actual design and construction.

"Sen. Lugar's office was instrumental in connecting us early on with geothermal experts from Oak Ridge National Laboratory as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), who confirmed not only that such a system is feasible on campus, but also that it offers tremendous energy savings for Ball State in the future," said Gora. "In light of such leadership during his 32 years on Capitol Hill, including his service as former chairman and now ranking member of the important Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it's not difficult to understand why Time magazine lists Sen. Lugar among its '10 Best' senators. Or why we should be so honored and pleased to have him be such a major part of what promises to be another exciting and history-making day for Ball State."

Multiple honors

With his selection for the President's Medal of Distinction, Lugar — a former Rhodes Scholar — now has been recognized with the two highest honors that the university can bestow. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1986.

This year's spring commencement represents another double recognition of sorts, as well. Joining Lugar on the dais and receiving an additional medal of distinction from Gora will be Fort Wayne philanthropist and 1964 Ball State alumnus Ronald E. Venderly.

Citing a multifaceted career spanning service as an Army officer, an educator and athletics director in Fort Wayne schools and a brokerage professional with the former Shearson Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, Gora said the medal to Venderly honors "the magnitude of his personal and professional accomplishments." Those achievements include the establishment of the Ronald E. and Joan M. Venderly Scholarship Fund in 1998. Each year, the fund makes it possible for several students from Fort Wayne area high schools to pursue degrees in education at Ball State. He also provides scholarships for an additional group of students through his church in Fort Wayne.

Venderly's "significant leadership and exemplary charitable giving" extend to many community organizations, too, from the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and Civic Theater to the Girl Scouts of America and Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne. But the President's Medal recognizes most his commitment to higher education in Indiana that is helping Hoosier students prepare for, enter and succeed in the 21st century economy, said Gora.

Receiving an honorary doctor of art degree at this year's ceremony is internationally known architect and Ball State alumnus Craig Hartman.

A member of the Class of 1973, Hartman has earned critical acclaim for his design of the International Terminal at the San Francisco Airport and the Cathedral of Christ the Light in nearby Oakland, Calif. He also designed the American Embassy in Beijing and has earned more than 50 national and international honors for his work.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) made Hartman the youngest recipient of its Maybeck Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2001 — the same year he earned Ball State's Distinguished Alumni Award. He previously was named the College of Architecture and Planning's Distinguished Alumnus in 1998 and continues his long association and collaboration with Ball State as sponsor of the Charles M. Sappenfield Distinguished Lecture Series. In 2007, he participated with 15 architecture students in an immersive learning experience in Argentina.

Ball State's spring commencement takes place on the Old Quad and is traditionally attended by more than 14,000 faculty, staff, students, family and friends. Past speakers have included conductor Arthur Fiedler; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Broder; then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; jazz musician Ellis Marsalis; and editor, educator and presidential adviser David Gergen.

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