The Green Scene

The push for green jobs is well under way in Buncombe County and nationwide, and A-B Tech students are right in the thick of it. As part of the school's array of sustainability programs and initiatives, students in construction-industry programs, in particular, have been busy with both on-campus and community projects.

Roof 'n' tumble: Blending hands-on learning and community service, A-B Tech carpentry students built a roof for Vance Elementary's cob oven. Photo courtesy A-B Tech

The local activity reflects broader trends. The recession has hit the construction industry hard. North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue is pumping federal stimulus funds into JobsNOW, a new community-college-based program. And President Obama recently proposed pumping $12 billion into community colleges over a 10-year period to boost job training and creation.

"Community colleges play an important role in the changing economy by training for new jobs [offering] appropriate solutions to energy, construction, ecological and agricultural issues facing a world that must embrace the future of sustainability," says Heath Moody, who teaches carpentry and construction management at A-B Tech.

The carpentry program covers a broad range of sustainable approaches, including advanced framing techniques that use less wood and more insulation, and natural building methods employing straw, mud or waste products such as old tires. This year, for example, students built a cob structure at Vance Elementary's community garden, working with local natural builder Tony Beurskens. "Students not only [got] to stomp in the mud making cob, but [got] vital framing experience by building the roofs for the cob lion bench, cob concession stand and a cob turtle monster," says Moody.

They also erected a hexagon roof over the cob pizza oven at Isaac Dickson Elementary, protecting it from the weather and providing some shade for the parent volunteers who bake and sell pizza there (one such event raised more than $600).

Meanwhile, back at A-B Tech, carpentry students built a mock roof that can be used to train photovoltaic installers and inspectors enrolled in the residential electrical-wiring class. Moody calls the roof site "our sustainable playground, in which a variety of classes will be able to explore everything from appropriate energy alternatives, green building, sustainable landscape design and more."

Students and staff have been working on a wind turbine and adding more panels to an existing 500 watt photovoltaic array that helps power the Maple Annex on campus. Such projects and the accompanying course work "show tangible progress, real progress," says electrical-wiring instructor Frank Miceli, adding, "The college is proactive in attaining sustainable energy."

The same broad goal percolates through other initiatives at the school. With a $62,500 grant late last year from the N.C. Division of Water Resources, biology instructor Scott Jackson teamed up with storm-water expert Jon Calabria of The North Carolina Arboretum to design a series of rain gardens on campus. Carpentry students are building signs and benches; surveying and landscaping students are helping with the design; and biology students — charged with such initial tasks as clearing invasive species from the sites — will get to use the new ecosystems for lab work and species inventories. A group of teachers drafted the "President's Climate Commitment" for A-B Tech, which spells out the community college's push to "reduce [its] carbon footprint and reduce the use of energy on campus," says Ken Czarnomski, who chairs the construction management technology department. And Students for a Sustainable Campus works on projects ranging from environmental education to using more organic and locally grown foods.

"There are a lot of instructors and students who are doing a lot to address sustainability at [the college]," says Moody, "and hopefully [the] administration will be able to find money to support those efforts."

Stimulating news

North Carolina will receive almost $9 million in federal stimulus funds for its rebate program on consumer purchases of new Energy Star-qualified home appliances, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced July 14. "Appliances consume a huge amount of our electricity, so there's enormous potential to both save energy and save families money every month," said Chu. "These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy and create jobs."

Energy Star, a joint program of the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency that encourages energy-efficient practices and products, is best known for its ratings of home appliances. With the rebates, the DOE is urging participating states and territories to focus on heating and cooling equipment, appliances and water heaters, which "offer the greatest energy-savings potential."

Energy Star-qualified appliances include central air conditioners, heat pumps (both air source and geothermal), boilers, furnaces (oil and gas), room air conditioners, washing machines dryers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators and water heaters. Stay tuned for specifics concerning North Carolina's rebate program.

Send your environmental news to, or call 251-1333, ext. 152.


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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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One thought on “The Green Scene

  1. What is so green about this article? The shape of the structure they are erecting is extremely waste intensive. Overall this money and schooling is just to stimulate new construction, non of these students will have the proper education to conduct proper energy efficient remods on existing structures here in this area. And that makes up more than 70% of all structures here. And these older structures here are the biggest wasters of energy hands down. Where’s the money for that piece of greenery. Having spent the bulk of my life time in the construction industry, the terms “GREEN” and “Sustainable” is the greatest over used and misunderstood terms of this century. The title of this article should be “Stimulus money used just to show off”. Quit trying to add the the word green unless you have something real to tell us.

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