Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2011, 7:59 am

Eco-tech: BHC's new building points to a green future

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By Hector Lareau

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Photo: Paul Colletti
Black Hawk College engineering professor Dr. Adebayo Badmos is looking forward to the completion of the school's new sustainable technology building currently under construction at the Moline campus.
A conceptual drawing of the new sustainable technology building currently under construction at the Moline campus of Black Hawk College.
Dr. Adebayo Badmos, assistant professor of engineering technology, cannot contain his excitement. When he's talking about Black Hawk College's new sustainable technologies building and the training to be offered there, his gestures grow bigger and his voice more energized. After ticking off the programs, the needs of students for training, and the needs of industry and academia for trained students, he's nearly breathless: "How wouldn't I be excited?"

Black Hawk college's first new building in 40 years on the Moline campus features a number of green technologies, yet the vision that drove their inclusion sought more than just energy efficiency. The building itself is a learning laboratory, says Michael Phillips, BHC's vice president for administration. "The common thread through all the decisions was a focus on the students and on the building being an instructional tool," he explains.

And the building's exterior design, says Dr. Rose Campbell, executive vice president at BHC, is different from the other buildings on campus, which simply sit atop the hilly and varied campus. "The building was designed to take advantage of the natural terrain," she says.

Because LEED certifications are expensive and do not offer accessible educational opportunities, BHC went another direction. The college chose instead to construct an energy-efficient building while preserving as much of the $3.7 million budget as possible for educational value. The college teamed with MidAmerican Energy and an engineering firm to incorporate a number of significant energy efficiencies. Phillips says that other community colleges showcase buildings featuring a single green technology, but none has brought this many together to form a comprehensive learning environment.

One of the building's sustainable technology designs, solar harvesting, uses sensors to gauge sunlight coming into labs and classrooms and turn off unnecessary electric lighting. When students wash up after their classes, the water will be heated by the building's pair of 20-panel solar arrays. Electricity powering the building from its 11-kilowatt wind turbine will be displayed on monitors for students to analyze. In cold and hot weather, the 48 geothermal wells will keep temperatures comfortable; students will have data on that efficiency, too. And the building's green roof — plants covering a waterproof membrane to reduce runoff and increase energy efficiency — will offer hands-on opportunities for natural science and botany students.

The building's main educational emphasis will be the materials science program that has Dr. Badmos so pumped up. "This development of this program is national in scale, and it should attract national attention," says Dr. Michael Rivera, dean of instruction and student learning at BHC, who has headed up the curriculum team. The program the college has developed benefitted from assistance from the National Science Foundation and the United States Department of Energy, says Dr. Rivera, along with advisory input from industry representatives. Dr. Campbell says that the program is built both to support the community's industries and to attract new ones. "The future will come," says Dr. Badmos. "We will be there to meet it."

The labs and classrooms are state of the art — well ahead of those found in industry, says Dr. Rivera. During a tour of the lab equipment, Dr. Badmos can't wait to show off each piece. He is excited to see the reaction when he demonstrates how specialized microscopes are connected to computers for materials analysis. With the eagerness of a child at play, he grabs a material sample fixed in a puck-shaped specimen holder and shows how the surface has been ground down to better expose any faults. Then he marches to heat-treatment equipment and describes how simply heating the same material to different temperatures can change its characteristics in application. The biggest gee-whiz machine of all is the three-dimensional printer. (Imagine a replicator from "Star Trek" and you're getting close.) Dr. Badmos describes how the machine can 'print' a three-dimensional computer design of, say, a crescent wrench. When it's done, a beige, plastic version of the wrench awaits inspection — and endless fiddling with the fully functional adjusting mechanism.

The building will open this spring and will begin hosting an ongoing series of professional and continuing education programs for professionals already in the business world. Programs for homeowners and others interested in sustainable technology also are planned. The first materials science class is scheduled to enter the new 13,000-square-foot building in the fall semester. Students will fill the building's specialized sustainability lab and materials lab, as well as the relatively ordinary 24-seat classroom and the two 40-seat classrooms that can be combined when a retractable wall is pulled back.

Sustainable technology — indeed, every technology, says Dr. Badmos — depends upon a workforce trained to identify, test and create the right materials. "The efficiency of every technology depends on materials," he says. "We're talking about faster computers, sustainable technologies — everything. Without materials science, the good life we are living would not be possible." Students will be trained to work with metals, ceramics, composites, polymers, plastics and other materials. "Designs won't work without materials science," says Dr. Badmos. The right materials permit engineering designs to be manufactured and to work.

Dr. Badmos insists that the training is highly relevant both to business and to academia. Materials science is a missing piece in the engineering field, he says. "The general public knows about design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering," but not about materials science, which is necessary for other engineering disciplines to succeed.

BHC's materials science technology associate's degree will be a rigorous program, as will the certificate programs in metallurgical technology, polymers and plastics technology, and ceramics and glass technology, Dr. Campbell says.

The building was funded by a bond issue and $1 million from Illinois Jobs Now. Dr. Campbell is proud of both the building and the budget. "We're very busy being good stewards of the public dollar, while providing quality education," she says. The building and its program build on the college's "long and strong tradition in the community of providing quality education at an affordable price."

Hector Lareau is a freelance writer who regularly covers topics in education.