The Doty Conservation Corps

By Charlie White

[img_assistfid=27thumb=0alt=Doty Cons small]Good old Minnesota winters. With nearly constant snow, ice and subzero wind chills, it’s impossible to go anywhere without putting on several layers of clothing. Here at Macalester, students walking between classes are often seen in heavy scarves, coats, gloves, and hats. But students in Doty Hall are facing a different extreme.

Many of them can be seen walking the halls in t-shirts and shorts, and actually opening their windows to try to get a break from their stuffy, overheated dorm rooms. But of course, opening windows in the winter wastes massive amounts of heat energy, not to mention the problem of freezing pipes. This year, however, an alternative solution is being offered for the problem of overheating in Doty hall.

The Doty Conservation Corps, headed by Timothy Den Herder-Thomas 09, is a new group on campus centralized in Doty that has been taking steps to reduce heat usage in its residence hall, and eventually for other residence halls on campus as well. "After hearing from some upperclassmen about how hot it gets in the winter, I talked to [director of facilities management] Mark Dickinson about how the heating system works," said Den Herder-Thomas. "I saw this as a big opportunity to save money, fuel, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions."<br /><br /> Den Herder-Thomas has been working to get all Doty residents involved in saving energy by having them record on a floor plan the general temperature of their room, the setting of the heat valve, and whether or not the windows are open.<br /><br /> "Once people give me a general idea of what's going on with the heat in their room, I can analyze the data and relay it to Mark Dickinson, who has been very supportive of what we are doing," he said. "Right now we're handling cases on an individual basis. If someone is doing everything right, which means their windows are closed and their heat valve is turned all the way down, but their room is still too hot, then there is a problem."<br /><br /> Den-Herder Thomas was also very involved with energy conservation for several years before coming to Macalester. In his hometown Jersey City, NJ, he was involved in the Climate Campaign, an environmental organization in the Northeast. "I was in touch with several governmental groups concerning the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative," he said.<br /><br /> According to Den Herder-Thomas, this initiative is basically a plan to reduce the total amount of carbon emissions in the Northeast. He also spent time working on petitions to protect our national wildlife refuge.<br /><br /> Since coming to Macalester this year, Den Herder-Thomas has had opportunities to be more active than ever. In addition to organizing the Doty Conservation Corps, he is involved in several other student organizations with environmental initiatives, including MacCares and MacBike.<br /><br /> In addition to Den Herder-Thomas, there are a number of other students living in Doty who are involved in the Conservation Corps. Each floor has a point-person--somebody designated to take questions and concerns about heating from members of his or her floor. The point-person is also responsible for making sure everybody on the floor records his or her comfort level, heat valve setting, and window status on the floor plan posted on the bulletin board. Austin Werth09, the point-person on Doty 1, is very impressed with the work that Den Herder-Thomas has been doing. “He’s very motivated, and knows how to get the right information,” said Werth. “He’s wonderful at organizing, and has a very thorough approach.”

Werth, like Den Herder-Thomas, is involved in MacCares, which is how he became involved with the Doty Conservation Corps. The two share many of the same concerns about the stuffy residence halls. “It’s ridiculous that in a place as cold as Minnesota, we have people who are too hot opening their windows to keep comfortable,” he said. “We’re going to spend twice as much on heating this year [compared to other years] because of high energy costs, so it’s ridiculous to be overheating the dorms.”

After the floor plans that students used to record their room temperatures were analyzed, Mark Dickinson and the other heating plant directors discovered that there were some problems with the water balance. “Even when the heat was set for very low, too much water was getting to some rooms,” Den Herder-Thomas explained. “That caused them to be very hot.”

After finding this problem, the facilities management staff immediately began working to fix it. According to Den Herder-Thomas, after several weeks of work, there have been marked improvements in the comfort level of most rooms. “Very few people were uncomfortably warm after a few weeks of work, despite closed windows,” said Den Herder-Thomas. “So I’m assuming that a good deal of heat is being saved, as other dorms still complain of being hot with and without open windows.”

Den Herder-Thomas also mentioned that many of the goals of the Doty Conservation Corps were in line with the Campus Climate Challenge–a national campaign based on college campuses. MacCares has signed up for the challenge, making Macalester one of the first campuses in the nation to be involved in the program since it began in September 2005. The main goal of the Challenge is to have colleges reduce their carbon emissions by 2 percent every year. This would mean that by the year 2055, Macalester will ideally be completely free of carbon emissions.

Den Herder-Thomas is currently trying to prepare groups in Dupre and Turck for similar projects. “I’d love to talk to anyone who wants to do this in [any other dorm] as well,” he said.

According to Den Herder-Thomas, many of the goals of the Doty Conservation Corps are similar to those of MacCares. In addition to the basic ideas behind saving energy, he added the important element of community. “We are something that belongs to the students and people of Doty Hall, and eventually people of other halls as well,” he said. “I really hope this will inspire students to work together to make changes and live in a sustainable way. We want to be part of their lifestyle.