West Hall gets lit

West Hall was long overdue for new lighting. Comments by students said that the lighting in West was rather low quality and made the dorms dark and gloomy; something that does not mix well with dark, Alaskan winters.

A proposal approved by the University of Alaska Anchorage's Green Fee Board paid for new lights in the West Hall dorms, which haven't seen lighting renovations since the '90s.
A proposal approved by the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Green Fee Board paid for new lights in the West Hall dorms, which haven’t seen lighting renovations since the ’90s. Photo credit: Young Kim

A proposal initiated by Housing, Dining and Conference Services Director David Weaver and political science major Joey Sweet was approved by UAA’s Green Fee Board to bring new lighting that would not only make the hall brighter, but would also save the university some extra cash.

“The Quality of Life surveys for on-campus housing revealed that year the issues that residence life would like to see addressed on campus. Forty percent [of] respondents said that lighting was something that could be improved,” Sweet said.

Lighting was the second most critical issue to those who took the survey, behind the cost of housing. The lighting systems in West Hall had not had any major renovations since the ’90s. In addition of the lights being of poor quality, students would, often absent-mindedly, leave lights on in their dorms, only hiking up the electricity costs.

At a resident assistant’s training in 2015, Weaver gave a presentation; in his presentation, he urged students to reach out to him if anyone wanted to pursue a Green Fee Board proposal. Sweet, who attended the RA training as an RA in North Hall, said he never forgot about Weaver’s presentation and kept the idea in the back of his mind.

Sweet left for the U.S. Legislative Internship Program in Juneau the semester after. When he returned to UAA spring 2016, he wanted to work on a project before he finished his undergraduate degree, so he contacted Weaver.

Weaver and Sweet decided to base their proposal on continuing a pilot lighting program started in West Hall. In fall 2015, University Housing contracted with AMC Engineers, Inc. and talked about potential ways to update lighting in housing.

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A pilot program followed shortly after, where Housing funded new lighting in the Templewood and Mac apartments, by replacing the lighting with LED bulbs. In addition, they also replaced four of the light fixtures in the suites of West Hall with LED fixtures and asked for student feedback. The students who responded were all “overwhelmingly happy” with the update of lighting in their rooms.

Sweet and Weaver began drafting their proposal to the Green Fee Board in September of 2016 and was approved by the Board around mid-February 2017.

They proposed that the Board grants $60,000 and then have University Housing match the cost. Essentially, the Board would help pay for the first two floors and then Housing would finish the last two of the four floors and pay for the engineering labors. Ultimately, the Board granted one floor, which was around $30,000, and Housing matched it with another floor. Installation began in September 2017, finishing the first two floors of West Hall.

The new LED fixtures will save about $80,000 a year of the Housing costs, about 20 percent of the electricity cost. Weaver, Sweet and Green Fee chair, Heather Jesse, all wanted to make sure that the savings from installing the LED lights would go back to student life to improve laundry facilities, kitchens, bathrooms, mattresses, food services and other necessities all around campus. The LED lights can last up to around 40 years, nearly ten times as long the previous lighting.

“I think it’s crazy how many different aspects a small change can manage to affect,” Jesse said.

The three halls, North, East and West, together house up to 600 students and each hall has four floors. Including Templewood and Mac, the campus apartments, residential housing capacity is around 1,000. Weaver hopes that by May 2020, all twelve floors of the residence halls will have LED lighting.

“[The project] is a triple win because it’s saving the university a ton of carbon footprint, the fixtures can last up to 40 years — I mean, the fixtures will be there when the building’s life span is done — and it’ll save the university money. And, it’s just brighter for students,” Weaver said. “I’m really happy. In the five years I’ve been director of housing and dining, this has been one of the coolest projects. It just makes so much sense, it’s a cool partnership and I am so thankful for the Green Fee Board. [They] really supported this project from the very beginning.”

If anyone is interested in pursuing a Green Fee proposal, contact the Green Fee Board at [email protected]