The Okapi Interview with CSULA’s Barbara Queen
California State University, Los Angeles is in the midst of a major facilities facelift powered by an active commitment to energy efficiency. Director of Planning Design and Construction Barbara L. Queen is a recent hire charged with the responsibility of keeping the sustainability juggernaut on track.
How new is Ms. Queen? When Okapi interviewed her, she was so busy that she hadn’t had time get business cards printed. As you will read – this interview was conducted in the midst of a hit-the-ground running moment.
by Lance A. Williams
Okapi: Walking around campus, it’s very interesting to see how dramatically the physical environment of the CSULA campus has changed recently. What in your judgment is happening both at CSULA and system-wide with respect to sustainable projects? How has the CSU energy efficiency initiative evolved over time?
BQ: I began as a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, assisting in the Planning Department. I worked my way up into project management. This was during the early 2000-era. LEED was in its origination phase.
In time, LEED proved itself and also gave credibility to the validation of design. So we adopted it and we made efforts at a minimum because the State at that time told us that they didn’t fund LEED for projects. The State was saying that we’re not going to pay you to just buy points. It’s not that we shouldn’t be doing LEED; we just needed to be accountable and prove that we’re not buying a toy. We need to bring value to the building process. Read More
Okapi: So when was the tipping point that the state realized that we’ve got to do this, that we’ve got to get ahead of the momentum because all of these institutions around the country are engaged?
BQ: I think in ’07 we as a system started to understand that there is a legitimate effort here. We as a system tried to create our own standards, do our own checklist at some level but it didn’t have the support because obviously you need a foundation in order to take off and run.
Okapi: So the CSU system started to develop its own standards like other organizations; CHIPS is a good example of a system that was created for a target sector: customized, institution-specific, energy efficiency related. Is that a fair assessment of the early CSU initiative?
BQ: Yes, it is a fair assessment. At that time, at San Luis Obispo, we understood ourselves to be a campus with many buildings and shared systems. We looked at LEED as relating to standalone buildings. We wanted something to acknowledge that we have central plants that serve many buildings.
To analyze it at the building level was a little unfair to the campus, especially when it came to transportation and those kinds of things. We can’t just dedicate one or two parking spaces to a building, for example; we have to share resources. But over time we’ve worked with LEED consultants who’ve walked us through the points side, getting points authorized and I think we closed that gap.
Okapi: So in the nine years since 2007, would you say that there has been a conscious effort to embrace sustainability as an integral part of how buildings are built within the CSU system?
BQ: I would agree. CSU used to have an energy standard by which we had to better our California Building Code by 10%. Now we say we can’t beat the Code because the Code is so good, but what other goals do we give ourselves? Then the Chancellor’s office mandated that all buildings must meet LEED Gold. We’re using the standard now to affirm that you need to achieve a LEED Gold standard because if you can’t, why not?
Okapi: So let’s segue to Cal State LA. You’re a recent hire but you have all of this institutional experience. Surely, (Campus Architect) Warren Jacobs and his team saw your experience as a great asset.
BQ: My last job at Cal Poly was a science building. It was 186,000 square feet of science labs. We started that project in a growing economy in 2008, squeezing money everywhere we could to make it work. We wanted to do LEED but we could never quite get that commitment for money so that we could afford to have the LEED process paid for.
To hire the consultants would ensure at the end of the job that the project succeeded. So by the time we went out to bid, the economy had crashed. By the time we picked the project back up, we had about a year delay when the CO stopped us. When we picked the project back up, we were in a great market.
2010, we were bidding the project. We had lots of money, so we said okay, we didn’t gear up for LEED certification, but we’re going to do LEED. We quickly spent two months getting all of our documents together, we submitted, and we’re going after what we could get with the current design. We ended up at the end of the day with a LEED Gold building.
From that level we found a way to hold ourselves accountable. We didn’t make efforts to go after the little points but we were able just based on our design to get a Gold building. I thought that was an interesting lesson that if you have a good team that stays aware you can. Really, it’s not a lot of extra work, and that was the lesson.
Okapi: Did that lesson position you and the team to develop a mindset that this has become your default approach?
BQ: Exactly. We were working with Peter Rumsey, our MEP consultant. All MEP trades reported to Rumsey’s group. He really kept us at the point that satisfied him and he’s very eco-sustainable. That’s his whole philosophy in life. It’s not just a pretty building we’re after; it penetrates into the bones of the building.
I don’t think it’s something you can just walk into. You really need to do your work up front. Hire the people that have the same principles, and they stand behind those principles.
That was a big piece. If the mechanical engineer had not sat at the table and fought for his design, which he did many times when we were trying to value engineer the skin of the building. He kept reminding us if you take that off and do stucco, then I have to put a bigger mechanical system on and you’re going to use more energy.
He fought for that at the table. No matter if we were doing LEED or not, it was his principle. If he hadn’t done that then we wouldn’t have ended up in the same way.
Okapi: What were some of the characteristics that you found to be within this framework, that really taught you some lessons that you’ve carried forth?
BQ: We analyzed our air exchange and what we learned in that process was that with a science lab what you’re mitigating risk by increasing the air exchange for the building. But there are options; you can turn the air exchange down, but it’s a risk assessment that you need. You need some sort of a monitoring system. So we spent money on a system that monitors the air but allows us to normally operate at B-level office occupancy expectations.
Okapi: Coming in with this knowledge, what’s your vision here? Does Warren Jacobs and the team have expectations about how this campus is going to continue to embrace sustainability?
BQ: We have an energy manager. At CSU we now call them our energy sustainability managers.
Okapi: Every campus?
BQ: Every campus has an energy sustainability manager. It’s paying it forward in that way. We don’t just pay our bills but we try to find ways to cut our bills down. And we still have a sustainability policy so we’re trying to meet the Net Zero 2030 goals.
We have a greenhouse gas emission requirement where we stay at the 1990s level on campuses so while they’re increasing their footprint for buildings they don’t exceed those 1990s level for buildings when campuses were operating less efficiently but they didn’t have as much space. Brad Haydel is our energy sustainability manager. He is initiating what we’re calling our strategic energy plan.
We’re hiring a consultant to analyze and give us ideas: how can we work to create projects. Brad is going to look to photovoltaics; ways to normalize our energy use so that in our peak times we can generate some energy storage on campus and help normalize our energy use. Retrofit of mechanical and lighting systems using replacement LEDs, as an example. These are all projects that we are actively pursuing.
BQ: Nothing is off limits. Field lighting. Those are big energy hogs out there. We’re definitely taking it at any level that we can get it done. It is so easy and it becomes easier every day because of the balance of retrofitting versus installing new light fixtures. We found a great LED retrofit that works in our existing light fixtures. We just go into the housing and change the existing fixture over to LED, get rid of the ballast. It’s a very simple, easy way.
Controls are the bigger challenge. We want metering, we want to automate, so we take it out of peoples’ hands to have to remember to turn off lights. We have a space person who is looking at how do we utilize space across campus when Scheduling is putting people in all of the buildings. Maybe there’s only a third of the building being used and we have to turn the whole building on.
The whole building is operating for three classes to happen. She’s looking at how we can stack in one building and we can shut down other buildings. Weekends, there’s another opportunity. We turn whole buildings on for two or three people to come in, in maybe 4-5 buildings. Can we schedule them all in one building and turn only one building on?
Okapi: Give me a quick survey of recent LEED-rated buildings on campus.
BQ: Our La Kretz science wing just north of us; the building that we’re in; as well as Public Safety which is across campus.
Okapi: So you’ve got some very impressive buildings brought on line that are LEED Gold.
BQ: Not certified as Gold, but they used the points system as a guideline. They didn’t pursue the certification part.
Okapi: So there’s no plaque ceremony. You’ve done the projects as LEED equivalent.
BQ: LEED equivalent was a goal for CSU for a long time, but now I think people realize that if you don’t go through the final piece of it you miss a big chunk. It’s not validated to anything.
Okapi: As you know, it’s one thing to build a sustainable building. It’s another thing to operate the building at sustainable levels. So how do you maintain the sustainable characteristics?
BQ: I think the commissioning process is our biggest piece. Long before we implemented our LEED standards, we adopted commissioning. We knew that we had a problem when we turned over a building. Not only can we not make it work but people are uncomfortable and they’re not happy. Then when you get into it, the valves aren’t there, what’s going on?
So we did it to ensure that we got what was shown in the drawings and that it operated. When I turn over a building, long before that conversation I’ve had my trades sitting in a meeting, talking about what I’m doing. And it’s really pushed that envelope to say you’ve got to talk with your in-house folks at the beginning, not at the end when you’re saying here’s the keys, do you want training, let’s go. Ultimately it’s given us lots better buildings.
Okapi: What’s on you plate coming up?
BQ: We are going to completely gut our Physical Sciences building. Take all of the systems out, take all of the windows out. It needs a seismic retrofit and the building is out of date. It’s an inefficient building at every level. So we’re going to take it down to its bones.
We’re not demoing it, we’re keeping what’s there. We’ll probably spent about $8 million on glazing in the building; all brand new building systems. We’re repurposing that building as an administration building combined with classroom space for students on the bottom floors.
Okapi: Have you taken some of the concepts associated in the commercial world with mixed use and applied it here?
BQ: Exactly. It will house the President’s office, our administrative folks, our student life folks, and then you combine that with students. That will be our project over the next three years.
We’ll be building new student housing because we have a demand exceeding what we currently have, roughly a thousand beds with dining. That demand drives the need for a parking structure because we’re building the housing on top of parking. It will be on northeast campus near the freeway. Parking structure will go first over the next year. We have a CEQA process that we’re going through right now that will finish up in March or April of 2017. Approximately a year later we’ll pick up our housing project.
Okapi: What are your energy efficiency plans for the historic buildings on campus such as King Hall, the university library and the stadium complex?
BQ: King Hall is next up. We are heading there to do a lighting retrofit. It is imminent.
Okapi: How long does it take to do a lighting retrofit in a building like that?
BQ: It doesn’t take more than a couple of months because generally with the LED systems, we don’t need to upgrade any of the power. We’re actually using less. So everything that’s there already easily plugs into what we are doing. It’s really just being able to get into the rooms.
Right now one of the missing pieces is the controls. We’re trying to find a lighting controls system that includes room occupancy sensors and daylight sensors. Controls are critical to having even better results. We just need to find the right system for our campus.