Port Jefferson School District to finalize energy performance contract on heels of green roof

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The Port Jefferson Middle School welcome sign is aligned with a sign from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, explaining that the school is part of the Environmental Protection Fund. Photo by Joseph Wolkin

By Chris Peraino and Joseph Wolkin

The Port Jefferson Middle School welcome sign is aligned with a sign from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, explaining that the school is part of the Environmental Protection Fund. JOSEPH WOLKIN/THE LONG ISLANDER An energy performance contract between the Port Jefferson School District and Johnson Controls, an Energy Service Company (ESCO), that will upgrade the district’s energy infrastructure is set to be finalized in the upcoming weeks.

The partnership is just the latest in a number of eco-friendly initiatives spearheaded by Fred Koelbel, Port Jefferson School District’s Director of Facilities. In late January, the district installed a 3,400 square foot green roof atop of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School that curbs the impact of stormwater that would otherwise seep into Port Jefferson Harbor via gutters, and ultimately reach the Long Island Sound. The roof is made up of regionally grown sedum and a waterproof membrane that retains and filters the water, limiting the amount that pours into the local harbor.

“When I applied for the grant, the premise was, look this is not going to change the world; this is a small area. But what made this so unique is you can literally walk right up to it and see it,” Koelbel said. “It just becomes an example. We’re talking about sixth, seventh and eighth graders.”

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Any renovations Johnson Controls undergoes will pay for themselves, as the district will ultimately save money by reducing its energy consumption, Koelbel said.

Some such renovations include upgrading the district’s energy management system, allowing Koelbel to monitor and adjust heat and lighting across the school district from his PC at home.  Exact installation dates are not yet solidified, but Koelbel said work is to begin around the beginning of March.

Adjacent to the green roof stands a four square foot plot of the sedum encased in a transparent shell, rendering the waterproofing membrane and growing medium visible.

Underneath lies a calibrated bucket that allows students to gauge the collected rain water of the plot. By multiplying to account for the full 3,400 square footage, students are able to track the roof’s total production. It serves not just as an eco-friendly innovation, but also as a hands-on educational tool that normalizes a healthy environmental consciousness.

“The real issue is when water washes over a surface that is contaminated,” Henry Bokuniewicz, a doctoral marine biology professor who teaches a class on the Long Island Sound at Stony Brook University, said.

Although rain water itself is not harmful, runoff from the road may contain nitrates and contaminates that affect the production of micro-algae, as well as the “growth and profundity” of wildlife, Bokuniewicz said. Runoff played a role in the near eradication of a once-thriving lobster population in the Long Island Sound. Green roofs cycle potentially harmful water back into the atmosphere and away from gutters.

A Department of Environmental Conservation grant subsidized all but $68,000 of the roof’s total $275,000 cost, the remaining cost being covered by the district. A commercial roofing manufacturer that specializes in green roofs, Siplast, oversaw installation.

“There is no question about the benefits of green roofs,” Jorg Breuning, founder of Green Roof Service, LLC, said. “There is also no question that people need to talk about it and teach that.”

While other districts expressed interest in a green roof to Koelbel when he hosted an instructional in late January, Port Jefferson remains the only district to on Long Island to boast ownership.

“Most people don’t know anything about [green roofs] or if they are aware of them, they are under the impression that they are very expensive and are only there for visual appeal,” Dr. Brad Rowe, a professor at Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture, said. “People, young people included, need to be educated on their numerous environmental, social, and economic benefits.”

Koelbel attests his ability to install the green roof, which does not directly save the district money, to the clout he has gained with past energy-saving undertakings. After winning a 2009 recession Recovery Act that allowed Koelbel to install LED lighting, ultimately saving the district money, administration became more open to energy-reduction efforts.

Since then, the district has installed solar panels, introduced motion sensor lights that automatically shut off when there is a lack of movement and refurbished a number exterior light poles from sodium-based fixtures to LED, reducing energy usage from 2,000 watts per pole to 300. The remaining sodium-based fixtures are set to be altered to LED under the upcoming contract.  

Though official statistics have been skewed due the departure of the worker who tracked energy output numbers, Koelbel says that the district has reduced its energy consumption by 30 percent. That number is to increase after the energy performance contract is under way.

Rutgers Cancels Trip to Mecca Despite Executive Ban Appeal

Niloofar Sima, an Iranian citizen and sophomore at Stony Brook University, recalled discouraging her mother from traveling home to visit her ill grandmother: “I told her you going there is not going to change a thing.” Photo by Skyler Gilbert

By  Chris Peraino and Skyler Gilbert

The Center of Islamic Life at Rutgers University has cancelled an upcoming hajj, citing airport discrimination anxieties despite a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate President Trump’s executive travel ban.

The cancellation of the hajj to Mecca on March 11, considered a mandatory religious duty for any Muslim to carry out at least once in his or her life, is indicative of a greater trend among universities throughout the Tri-State Area. The schools are promoting cautious travel policy and citizens from the seven potentially banned nations have expressed travel timidity due to ambiguous status, as expressed by a number of university chaplains and students in the Greater New York Area.

“I don’t want to put students through an interrogation myself,” Kaiser Aslam, Rutgers’ Muslim Chaplain said. “I’ve been in one for six hours in previous years. We don’t want to put students through that and we’re not sure how they would react to it, so it’s causing us to halt our travel plans and our programming.”

He estimates that 200 to 300 Rutgers students have expressed general fears of prejudice at jama’ah, an Islamic congregational prayer. These anxieties played a part in the trip’s indefinite postponing.

“Honestly it’s leading to a cultural phenomenon where students are just giving up their travel plans because they don’t know what is going to happen,” Aslam said.

At least one Rutgers student studying abroad was barred from reentering the United States, although no specific names were disclosed due to ongoing legal proceedings and in order to preserve the wishes of the impacted student(s), Aslam and Yasmin Ramadan, former president of Rutgers’ Muslim Public Relations Council, confirmed.

Some schools, including Yale University, are recommending that students from nations who would be debarred if the executive order stands preclude themselves from any travel outside the United States.

“We have received a lot of personal e-mails from the dean and the president of the university and everything,” Mohamed Osman, a sophomore chemistry major at Yale and a Sudanese citizen, said. “They have been in very close contact with us, letting us know what’s going on.”

Osman attended high school at an English-speaking international high school in Khartoum, and struggles with the possibility that students there now — including his younger brother Khalid, now a high school junior — would not have the same opportunity he had: to attend an American university.

“The director of the school recommended that you don’t plan on going to the U.S.,” Osman said. “It is true that a lot of the people this year are not going to have the opportunities that I got two years ago, which is really sad in my opinion.”

Osman is the only member of his family that lives in the United States, and acknowledged that the ban would prevent him from seeing his relatives, either during the upcoming spring break or in the case of an emergency.

For Stony Brook sophomore Niloofar Sima, this anxiety has become a reality. Sima, who grew up in Mashhad, Iran, moved to the U.S. at age 14 with her immediate family, but all of her extended family still lives in the Middle East, including her grandparents, who helped raise her and her sister.

“[My mom] called me yesterday to tell me that my grandma is in the hospital,” Sima said. “And she was crying. She was like, ‘I don’t even care. I’m gonna go regardless. It’s my mother.’ I told her you going there is not going to change a thing. Whatever happens to her still happens.”

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Feb. 9 in a 3-0 decision not to reinstate the order. The future of the case remains up in the air.

A group of 17 prominent higher education institutions, including all eight Ivy League colleges, co-authored an amicus briefing Feb. 13 in support of the plaintiffs of a district court case relevant to the ban, Columbia University Assistant Chaplain Mouhamadou Diagne confirmed.

“The uncertainty generated by the Order and its implementation is already having negative impacts well beyond persons from the seven affected countries. People from all over the world are understandably anxious about having their visas prematurely canceled through no fault of their own,” the 33-page briefing stated. “Comments by high-ranking Executive Branch officials have suggested that the Order could be extended to other countries, heightening institutional anxiety.”

The president tweeted on Thursday, “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!” insinuating that he would appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but White House officials later said that rewording and reissuing the initial executive order is also an option.