STILLWATER, Okla. — Oklahoma State University student involvement is a priority for the construction of the new home for OSU Agriculture.
Two former OSU environmental science undergraduate students jumped at the chance to provide their input and develop a plan to identify potential sustainable solutions for New Frontiers Agricultural Hall, a state-of-the-art teaching, research and OSU Extension facility.
Ferguson College of Agriculture students Makenna Paniel and McKinly Dortch presented their recommendations to the New Frontiers design and architectural team as part of a recent capstone course led by Karen Hickman, professor and director of OSU’s environmental science undergraduate program.
“Finding a sustainability building project was a particular interest of mine because there are many types of career paths in the sustainability field, and this was an opportunity to see how my interests could be used in a tangible project,” Dortch said. “When I heard about the opportunity for us to work on the project for the new building, I was very excited to be able to contribute to my campus. Also, working on a building from scratch allowed me to think bigger and get creative.”
The duo worked with another capstone class to survey current OSU students regarding their preferences about the design of the new building, and more than 70% of the respondents favored sustainable and eco-friendly implementations.
As a result of their research and findings, Paniel and Dortch developed recommendations for six areas to maximize the efficiency and sustainability of the new building: minimal waste dining services, composting, native pollinator planting, green roof, rainwater catchment, and recycling of construction and demolition debris.
Minimal Waste Dining Services
Paniel and Dortch recommended using reusable materials that can be easily washed and sourcing plastic-free options, such as cardboard boxes instead of plastic bags, in the re-envisioned Dairy Bar that will be housed in the new building.
Another idea was to implement a program for students to pick up leftover food at the end of each day that limits food sources going into the trash, Hickman said.
OSU currently composts landscaping waste and pre-consumed food scraps from the Student Union. However, Paniel and Dortch both agreed there is much greater potential to divert food waste, single-use plastics, paper scraps and even paper towels from the landfill. They recommended expanding composting in the new building to eliminate brown waste and food waste.
“Having eaten on campus for four years, I saw firsthand how much food is wasted,” Dortch said. “I am also aware of the capability OSU has to implement a compostable dining program that could be run by the agricultural department similar to other campuses, and I think this is a perfect opportunity to pilot it.”
Native Pollinator Planting
The students recommended incorporating native perennial plants into the landscaping of the new building because they are adapted to Oklahoma’s natural environment and can withstand regional climatic changes, such as flooding and frost. Native perennials also require less maintenance, grow well without fertilizers and pesticides, and can restore health to the soil by protecting the topsoil from rain, wind and sun.
Not only will native pollinator planting be better for their ecosystems, but they also will attract pollinators into the environment, the students said.
In addition, Hickman said planting native pollinators around the new building can be used as a teaching tool in classes and provide interdisciplinary projects within various departments.
A green roof system is an extension of the existing roof, which involves high-quality waterproofing, root repellent and drainage systems, a filter cloth and lightweight growing medium, and plants.
“I think the green roof has a lot of potential to make OSU stand out from other universities as well as provide an educational opportunity for current and future students,” Paniel said. “The green roof closely follows in line with OSU’s mission of teaching, research and Extension, while helping the environment by reducing emissions, capturing potential pollutants and decreasing the urban heat island effect.”
Rainwater harvesting captures, diverts and stores rainwater from rooftops for later use. The suggested rainwater catchment not only provides a source of alternative water to offset the demand for freshwater, but it also can be used as a learning tool to educate students about sustainable systems.
In addition, Hickman is leading a new capstone team that is working with OSU Landscape Services to deal with runoff from buildings, including rainwater catchment. During the process, they will propose additional suggestions for New Frontiers Agricultural Hall.
Recycling of Construction and Demolition Debris
The students recommended the recycling of construction and demolition debris because of its benefits, such as natural resource savings, avoided landfill disposal, energy savings and reducing the carbon footprint.
Randy Raper, assistant vice president of facilities for OSU Agriculture, said this sustainable activity already has been incorporated in the construction process for New Frontiers Agricultural Hall.
“The gravel that was used to cover the many truckloads of fill dumped on the building site was recycled from the parking lot and from Ag North that was removed to make room for the footprint of the new facility,” he said. “The construction crew will continue to recycle construction and demolition debris when available.”
Raper said the design and architectural team is grateful for the students’ input, and the group is considering the recommendations they provided.
“We also are looking into add-on alternatives to ensure the building is as sustainable and efficient as possible,” he said. “These alternatives are included as a wish list for the building should funding become available for them. One idea is to include bird friendly glass for some windows in the facility to minimize bird collisions.”
Hickman said the opportunity for students to provide input in the design process of the new building is a beneficial experience. Students share a more progressive view of what’s needed and wanted, she added.
“Their ability to provide input that gets implemented not only is powerful in confidence building and learning valuable skills as an undergraduate, but it’s also value-added for their resumé and career growth,” Hickman said. “There’s not a lot of places that give students the opportunity to provide input on a new building. To me, that’s a prideful experience, and it makes my job easier because they’re totally invested in the project.”
Paniel said originally, she wasn’t interested in sustainability as part of her curriculum as a natural resource-focused environmental science major.
“I had never put much thought into sustainable building measures nor that we would be given the opportunity to suggest some for New Frontiers Agricultural Hall,” she said. “However, that’s part of what made this project so exciting for me. I got to learn about another side of environmental science that I likely wouldn’t have otherwise. I was really pushed to expand my expertise into areas I had no prior experience with, and it was incredibly empowering to be part of the process of building design.”
As a faculty mentor and teacher of the capstone and planning course, it’s Hickman’s responsibility to help guide and direct the students to the finished product.
“The first outcome is the amazing experience the students had and the pride they can take in the fact that some of the sustainability ideas are being implemented,” she said. “Two, the fact that we will potentially be building a facility that is more environmentally friendly than most other buildings on campus; how much more can OSU Agriculture be represented than that? The third is, I hope the environmental science undergraduate program is highlighted as a program that provides these capstone opportunities to students in which they truly do have an impact.”
Paniel and Dortch both graduated from OSU in 2020 with environmental science bachelor’s degrees and went on to further their education. A Guthrie, Oklahoma, native, Paniel is pursuing a master’s degree in plant and soil sciences at OSU, and Dortch, from Edmond, Oklahoma, recently graduated with a master’s degree in sustainability management and innovation from the University of Westminster in London.
New Frontiers Agricultural Hall is expected to open for classes for the fall 2024 semester. For more information, visit New Frontiers for campaign progress, construction updates and donor stories.
Oklahoma State University