Build It Right, Wilmorite

As the next town board meeting regarding the development of Park Point approaches, we students need to inform ourselves on the project’s details. Additional housing is needed for the college community so the fact that it’s being addressed and pushed forward is a positive achievement for the campus. However, when you begin to sift through the 300 page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), a document required by law prior to construction that analyzes the development’s plan and its effect on the surrounding environment, the report indicates that this acclaimed addition to the college may not meet the standards for sustainability set by SUNY New Paltz’s own Sustainability Plan.

So, what is Park Point? Park Point is a proposed housing complex that will be located off of Route 32 South as an off-campus apartment option specifically for students and faculty. Housing over 700 people within the complex, the development will have to construct its own sewage treatment facility and well water supply. The location of the complex is on SUNY Foundation land which will be leased to the private corporation Wilmorite to be separately built and profited from and then handed over to SUNY control in 40 years.

Additional housing is needed. But developing these new buildings with green standards is essential. As a college that promotes itself and takes pride in renovating buildings, such as the Crispell Residence Hall, to LEED Gold standards and strives for sustainable practices on campus, the Park Point project is a bit bewildering.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized green building program that provides verification of green building practices ranked on a four tier system (Platinum being the highest followed by Gold, Silver and Bronze ratings). In New York, all public buildings are required to be certified LEED Silver. Here’s the loophole for Park Point — it does not need to abide to these certification rules since it’s being built by a private company on private land — so pressuring Wilmorite for green building certification is absolutely vital. And if the complex is going to be in SUNY hands in 40 years (and who knows what kind of green standards will exist then) the question I ask is, why not build it right from the start and use this as an opportunity to set an example for the rest of SUNY and other higher education institutions for establishing more environmentally sustainable and efficient practices?

Some concerns that were apparent in the DEIS report relate to the location where the development is planned. An orchard was located on the site and a pear orchard still operates on one section of the land. The project plans call for a newly drilled well for the water supply on lands that have residual pesticides present in the soil. Soil tests documented high levels of arsenic, and water tests showed chemicals and pollutants exceeding their limit within the groundwater, including decachlorobiphenyl (a PCB), 4-terphenyl-d14, dimethylnirtrobenzene, perylene-d12, and triphenylphosphate (used as a plasticizer and fire retardant). The fact that I have a hard time pronouncing or recognizing these chemical names is enough to keep me from taking a sip. More research that is communicated to the wider community needs to be done to ensure the safety of future residents and the surrounding environment.

Just recently, the campus released their Sustainability Plan regarding New Paltz’s effort to improve and encourage environmental conservation. Within the plan, it specifically states that “the college’s firm commitment to making this institution a model of sustainability and a center of environmental learning will not cease.” There are many positive goals and achievements within the plan including how in 2008 the college became a “signatory to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, a national program that facilitates the expansion of environmental education and research and to improve environmental performance on college campuses.” It specifically explains how the campus’ effort to reduce greenhouse gases and become carbon neutral is of utmost concern.

However, when going back to the DEIS for Park Point it says “attempting to become carbon neutral is a laudable goal for this project but will remain elusive and impractical. The cost of such an effort in terms of consultation, design, development, and actual construction will cause the project to cease as a viable business venture.” Yes, up front the cost of building with green technology and materials is higher; however, the return over the years will prove otherwise since using less energy is cost effective.

Now is the time to educate yourself and read up on the facts on what the campus Sustainability Plan claims to achieve and what this new upcoming development will entail. We are all aware (or should be) of climate change and how our actions as humans have consequences. The world’s resources are finite and we must work alongside mother nature on this one.

Go online and read Wilmorite’s DEIS for Park Point and go to New Paltz’s site to read the Sustainability Plan, then come to the next town board meeting on Monday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. to air your concerns. This is 2012, people, and we are an educated and informed student body who acknowledges and wants to preserve our environment for the future: it’s time to act and set a real model for the other college campuses.