Staff Editorial: Trustees: Cool it on chiller purchase


When college trustees vote Saturday on an emergency allocation of $7.5 million to expand Macalester’s cooling capacity, they should be advised that an affirmative vote could send a chilling message to all of us who care about sustainability and transparency in decision-making. Further, it would foreclose the very possibility of a more efficient, sustainable solution at a pivotal moment in how the campus expands its cooling capacity.To call it disconcerting that students were not notified of the slated purchase of three chillers until just a week ago should be to state the obvious. Whether intentional or not, the failure to explicitly notify student leaders about a purchase of this scale-the chiller system accounts for about 10 percent of Macalester’s carbon emissions-invites questions about process and intention on the part of Facilities.

But even more troubling is the apparent failure to collaborate the college Sustainability Office, which was formed as part of an administrative commitment to address Macalester’s impacts, most certainly including at the scale implicated by the proposed chiller purchase. This invites a questions about both process and function: How can the Sustainability Office be expected to do its vital work comprehensively and well unless all relevant purchasing decisions-and they don’t get much more relevant than this-are brought to its attention?

Our advice to the trustees on this decision: cool it. The long-term economic and environmental sustainability of this purchase alone should make us all give pause, particularly when a proposal from a contractor to affordably investigate alternatives was recently declined. We applaud the work of students in the Macalester Conservation and Renewable Energy Society to work in ongoing collaboration with all stakeholders to draw attention to alternative solutions-and we are confident that the campus survey they suggest will help ensure that a final purchasing decision is environmentally and economically sound.

We do not doubt the intentions of administrators with respect to finding a solution that balances competing values. But there are too many questions about the long-term wisdom and opportunity costs of this decision, and the process by which it was made, to move ahead at this time.

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College.