Construction Protest

The Students for Sustainable Development, a student group protesting "excessive expansion" at the university, zip-tied signs to fences near University of Oregon construction sites. 

Editor's note: This article was updated to include a comment from the University of Oregon.

Student protestors zip-tied signs to construction fencing by Hayward Field and Hamilton Hall Wednesday in an effort to call attention to what they describe as “excessive expansion” that does not prioritize sustainability.

The group, Students for Sustainable Development, says that the University of Oregon is going back on both its promises from its 2010 Climate Action Plan as well as its promises for social equity.

“Students for Sustainable Development demands that the University place sustainability goals and the needs of the student population and local communities above excessive expansion,” the informal group wrote in a statement, citing data from the UO campus planning department and reporting from the Emerald. 

A spokesperson for the group did not immediately return a request for comment. 

UO spokesperson Kay Jarvis responded to the group, stating that UO’s Climate Action Plan was initiated and supported by student leaders and UO “continues to work toward carbon neutrality.”

“The initial CAP led to the Oregon Model for Sustainable Development which kept institutional emissions flat despite significant growth of campus.  This was achieved largely by conservation and efficiency initiatives in new and existing buildings. The updated CAP recognizes the importance of transitioning to low carbon fuel sources and calls for studies to evaluate the options,” Jarvis said. “The updated CAP commits the UO to review progress annually and requires a complete reassessment of and recommitment to the plan every five years.”

The university’s new construction projects include Knight Campus, the privately funded renovation of Hayward Field and the recently finished Tykeson Hall, among others. 

The group said in a statement that the new construction projects are increasing the energy load of the university’s central power station, citing Emerald reporting on the university’s second climate action plan. In addition, the group said that the university “refuses” to electrify the current campus heating system and connect it to a renewable grid.

“The university has left behind promises they made in their 2010 action plan that required energy load increases from new buildings to be offset by renovations to old buildings,” the group wrote, citing the campus planning department website and a May 2019 memo from UO President Michael Schill on a revised climate action plan.

The removal of Hamilton Hall and construction of a new residence hall, a multiyear project that began in November, particularly frustrated the group. They pointed out that, even though university construction plans to accommodate for 3,000 more enrolled students, the student body has shrunk by about 2,000 students, citing 2012-18 institutional data.

“The planned residence halls will be certified LEED Gold and 25 percent more energy efficient than the Oregon energy code requires, and the current energy model shows the structures will be greater than 50 percent more energy efficient than the Hamilton and Walton residence halls,” Jarvis said. “It is possible the three new buildings combined, with about 1,800 beds, expanded academic residential community and engagement space, expanded dining, and the prospective student visitors and welcome center, will use less energy than Hamilton Hall, the Hamilton dining facility and Walton Hall combined. Kalapuya Ilihi, the newest residence hall, is an all-electric building with carbon emissions near zero.” 

 

Related: “UO’s construction has no end in sight

The signs, some of which have a QR code leading to a Google Doc of the group’s grievances, read: “Green Universities Don’t Break Their Climate Action Promises,” “The U of O Is Planning to Spend $750 Million on Construction in the Next 10 Years” and “Universities with Budget Crises Shouldn’t Waste Money.”

The group wants the university to cap total energy usage, lower its carbon emissions and institute “sustainable and socially just development.” That last goal would include “localized renewable energy and projects that address genuine needs of students and community members, not those that support gentrification and are not beneficial to the majority of the Lane County community.”

Anakin Welp contributed reporting to this article.