Pomona College puts green effort into overdrive at Bridges Auditorium

Sustainability planning is a global concern and Pomona College’s efforts toward becoming a more sustainable campus continue to inspire.

Projects such as the Solar Rover, a mobile solar station used to power campus events and activities as well as programs like Clean Sweep/ReCoop—which involves collecting unwanted items at the end of the school year and reselling them at discounted prices—aim to promote responsible living within the Pomona College community.

Over the course of the summer, that green sensibility was expanded with a much-needed renovation to the 40-year-old lighting system at the Mabel Shaw Bridges Auditorium.

“The process began a little over a year ago,” explains Kurt Beardsley, production manager at Bridges Auditorium. “We needed to replace a $5 piece on our dimmer and we started talking about how hard it is find the parts to replace it. That one conversation set off a chain of conversations that turned into a million dollar renovation.”

Built in 1931 at a cost of $600,000, the more than 60,000-square-foot auditorium was designed by architect William Templeton Johnson and its stage has hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and President Bill Clinton. Now, gone are the outdated house lights, replaced by energy-efficient LED lights and tape light systems that not only showcase the beauty of this architectural gem but will save the institution that envelopes it thousands of dollars per year.

“The last time the lights were replaced was in 1971,” explains Mr. Beardsley. “By swapping out the 175 incandescent for LED, we’re dropping from 42,800 watts to about 12,000 watts, which will save us about $10,000 a year on our electrical bill.”

In addition to the house lights, 16 new LED stage lights were recently installed, all of which will be operated by a new state-of-the-art touch screen dimming and lighting control system.

“We went from 60 dimmers to 384 dimmers,” says Mr. Beardsley. “Replacing the control system from the 1970s gives us much more control over the lighting.”

Not only is the new system cost-effective, it also enhances the aesthetics throughout the auditorium more so than incandescent lighting could ever do.

A demonstration of just how much control is afforded by the new lighting system was displayed on Big Bridges’ ceiling, which depicts the signs of the zodiac in blue, silver and gold. With a mere touch of a button, Giovanni Smeraldi’s 22,000-square-foot mural was instantly transformed into a breathtaking nighttime sky.

“What LED can afford you is the red, green and blue light. We’re playing with some blue and making the gold and silver dome almost come to life; they really showcase the architectural detail,” says Mr. Beardsley.

Installed by ANC Productions located in Burbank, the LED lighting project will provide better and more flexible lighting options for productions and events in the auditorium. The new dimmers will also allow for more varied lighting options and will require less outside equipment to be brought in for major concerts such as the taping of Taylor Swift’s VH1 “Storytellers” special in 2012.

Once you go down the road of creating sustainability in a building constructed in the early 1930s, it’s easy to look ahead to future projects. “Everyone is aware of the lack of air conditioning in Bridges, so we’d like to tackle that one day. Perhaps a new sound system to meet the needs of all the different concerts…new drapes for the stage. The list could go on,” says Mr. Beardsley.

According to Mark Kendall of Pomona College’s Department of Communications, the $858,000 upgrade at Bridges Auditorium is part of the college’s ongoing effort to install more energy-efficient lighting and promote sustainability. Newly-installed LED lights and a dimming control station in Lyman Hall will reduce lighting wattage use to less than 20 percent of what it was previously. Pendleton Dance Center will also be receiving new LED lights in the near future.

In a testament to the college’s investment and commitment to sustainability, Pomona has taken its quest outdoors as well.

Last summer, the college removed a parking lot just outside Bridges and replaced it with primarily native and drought-tolerant landscaping, adding special permeable pathways that still allow rainwater to reach the soil. In what was once the paved Bridges parking area, there’s also a 50-foot deep drywell for storm water reclamation, allowing rainwater that doesn’t soak into the soil to flow into the well to reach the aquifer.

Green building also plays a significant role in Pomona College’s sustainability plan.

In 2005, the college began implementing green building standards, requiring all new construction and major renovations be built to at least LEED silver or equivalent standards. In 2006, those standards were updated to require all new construction to be built to at least LEED Gold standards.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a set of rating systems for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. Developed by the US Green Building Council, LEED is intended to help building owners and operators be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.

To date, Pomona College has eight buildings certified under LEED guidelines: Pomona Hall and Sontag Hall (LEED Platinum), Lincoln Hall and Edmunds Hall plus three in the Buildings and Grounds complex on First Street (LEED Gold) and Richard C. Seaver Biology Building (LEED Silver).

Their dedication to green building continues with the upcoming addition of the Studio Art Hall and Millikan Science Hall, which are currently under construction. Both projects have been designed to a meet at least LEED Gold standards.

If you’d like to take a Sustainability Tour of Pomona College’s campus and see its achievements firsthand, log on to: www.pomona.edu/administration/sustainability/resources/publications/susttour.pdf

—Angela Bailey




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