Building a More Sustainable Rollins

Director of Facilities Management Scott Bitikofer discusses how his team is making Rollins a more sustainable—and accessible—campus.

Director of Facilities Management Scott Bitikofer is leading the charge to make Rollins a more sustainable campus. (Photo by Scott Cook) Director of Facilities Management Scott Bitikofer is leading the charge to make Rollins a more sustainable campus. (Photo by Scott Cook)

Scott Bitikofer has always loved building things. Born and raised in upstate New York, Bitikofer loved the water and wanted a boat. Unable to afford one, he built his own—at age 12, using particle board he purchased with funds earned from his paper route.

“It was a disaster. It was the worst-designed, worst-constructed boat you’ve ever seen,” he says with a chuckle. “It was the wrong material to use to build any part of a boat. It was 8-feet long, rectangle in shape. It looked more like a barge than a boat. It only lasted one season.”

But it worked. And he learned from that first boat. He built another one the following year—this time, purchasing a plan and marine plywood. He’s currently working on his eighth boat (you should ask him to show you pictures—the handcrafted cherry interior is stunning).

Try. Learn from what worked and what did not. Try again. That could easily sum up the director of facilities management’s life motto. Due to extreme dyslexia (he still can’t often spell his own daughter’s name), Bitikofer graduated in the bottom 20 percent of his high school class. He decided to go into construction, and eventually became a master electrician. However, after his wife gave birth to triplets, he decided he needed something else. At age 30, he enrolled at the University of Central Florida in their mechanical engineering program, where he graduated first in his class of 400 students (he credits advances in understanding learning disabilities). Before coming to Rollins in 1998, he worked at NASA in shuttle flight operations, servicing and preparing orbiters like the Endeavor and Columbia for their next flights.

It’s all of these experiences—combined with several others—that Bitikofer brings to each project.   

“When looking at things on campus, I’m not looking through my engineer-at-Rollins eyes only,” he says. “I look at things with the sum total of my life experiences. And if I learn something in another area that benefits and helps make a better decision here, then by all means I use it.”

Tell me about sustainability initiatives on campus.

We focus our efforts in sustainability in three areas: energy savings (which is probably the largest of the three), conservation and protection of water, and material preservation—trying to re-use, rather than use, raw materials.

When we look at energy, there are two big chunks of electricity demand on campus. One deals with air conditioning, the other with lighting. We work to provide these critical services as efficiently as we can. In terms of air conditioning, we have worked over the last 12-14 years toward a district cooling model, where we produce chilled water and distribute it under the campus. That allows us to produce air conditioning in the most effective, efficient way possible. It saves us utilities; it saves us maintenance costs; it serves a number of things; and, in our particular case, it helped with a lot of deferred maintenance.

We continue to look to optimize lighting efficiency. In some of our recent dorm projects, we have LED-based lighting. Our new standard for exterior lighting is an LED, dark sky-compliant fixture. Currently, we’re maybe 10-20 percent converted at this point, and adding more every month.

How do you make decisions regarding saving the College money and contributing to a more sustainable environment?

It really depends. I’ll give you an example. We recently re-lit the parking garage with all LED lights, and it cost us roughly $110,000 between the installation and the cost of the actual fixtures. As a result, we save about $12,000 a year in electricity, direct costs. That puts you up somewhere around a 9-10 year payback. Most people would look at a project like that and say, “A 10-year payback! That doesn’t make any economic sense.” But when there are other factors that we can use to justify the project, it can make sense. In the case of the SunTrust Parking Garage, the existing lighting was about 14 years old. We were having a lot of problems: Fixtures were failing; we were having to do a lot of replacements and other things; the quality of light was really poor—the light levels in the garage were never what people wanted in terms of safety. So, yes, the payback is a little long, but we also accomplished improving the quality of light and the safety in the garage, as well as addressing maintenance issues. When you put all of it together, the project makes a great deal of sense. We’re always looking for those double- and triple-win situations.

There is more than one way decisions can be approached. You can do it in a way that really disregards the natural environment around us and looks for expediencies in other areas, or you can look for those opportunities to make sure that we are very thoughtful about every decision we make and how it affects our environment. That’s really the challenge I give to my staff because this isn’t something I do on my own. When we make decisions on how we’re going to do things, how we’re going to build things, how we’re going to buy things—sustainability is always one of those criteria along with how well does the product work? What is the value when you purchase it? How long will it last?

What about the decision of one building over another, as far as sustainability goes? For example, you included thermal-solar panels on Holt Hall but not on Bush Science Center. Why?

Sustainability is not one size fits all. You have to really examine the different opportunities you’re confronted with. Let’s talk about that particular example. Holt Hall is a residence hall. We have about 90 students who live in that building and students like to take long, hot showers. Before we added the thermal-solar panels, we burned a lot of natural gas to produce hot water for that domestic hot water load.

The Science Center, by contrast, has virtually no domestic hot water load. It has some heating hot water load, but unfortunately thermal-solar is not very effective when it’s cold enough out that you need to turn on the heater. Normally, when you’re heating, the sun’s not out; it’s grey; it’s overcast; there’s a lot of moisture. We don’t find it to be particularly effective on that side. We try to look for the opportunities that fit. It depends on what’s available and what the loads are to figure out what combination can be made to work here the most effectively.

The Bush Science Center, which is currently under construction, will be LEED certified. How are you making this building sustainable?

We’re installing a heat recovery wheel, which passes the exhaust through one side of the wheel and the makeup air through the opposing side. This energy recovery wheel will allow us to recapture approximately 70 percent of the energy that is expended on both heating and air conditioning.

We’re also using a very sophisticated direct digital control system, which allows us to apply resources only where and when needed. The control system in the building is kind of the central nervous system—everything else works through it and feeds into it.

We have occupancy sensors, which typically tell you whether something is occupied or not, but they don’t do anything further with that information. To fix that, we’re tying the output of the occupancy sensors to the building controls. Then we can ask, “Okay, this space is now unoccupied. What don’t I need anymore?” Our philosophical approach is we don’t want to cut back on anything that anybody wants. What we do want to do is apply resources where they’re needed, when they’re needed—but not when they’re not. If we can do that, we can save a tremendous amount of energy. The controls allow us to use things like Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), which allow us to control the output of some motors on pumps and fans. Aligning the demand to the output of a particular piece of equipment allows us to supply only what is required.

One of the exciting parts of this project that we have not previously done on campus is rain water harvesting. Recognizing the critical need to preserve and protect water in our area, we will be collecting roof water off the flat roof. We store it in a very large underground storage tank with a capacity of about 28,000-30,000 gallons. That water is stored, treated, and then used to flush the toilets in the building. We’ve used waterless urinals on campus for years, so we don’t even have a water load in that case.

I saw in one of the plans that there will be a retention pond with cypress trees. How does that come into play?

That’s part of the storm water treatment system. We will collect water, store it, and allow it to percolate through the sandy soils and recharge the aquifer. In the process of doing that, the sand acts as a filter. The idea of that particular pond is to create a very visual, visibly attractive component of the building. Our site is so tight, like all of our campus, that we want to make use of every square foot of our property. Rather than having an ugly retention pond hidden in a corner, we’re actually going to feature it on the side of the building, where it’ll be planted out with cypress trees to look like a natural cypress stand—the type we see all over Florida. It’s a way of making a necessary component both functional but beautiful.

Why cypress trees?

Cypress swamps have been around for thousands of years in Florida. They respond well to changes of water levels. They’re both drought tolerant and standing-water tolerant. The retention pond’s water level is going to fluctuate, and cypress tree will handle both extremes.

How come all of the buildings aren’t LEED certified?

The truth is that we’ve done lots of projects on this campus, even during my tenure, where we did not elect to go for LEED certification. It doesn’t mean a building’s less sustainable; it just means it is not documented by a third party entity. The LEED process is a good process, but it’s somewhat costly. Instead, we have often chosen to apply those resources directly to the project.

What about decisions regarding accessibility?

Sustainability, as I mentioned before, is one of the core criteria we use to evaluate all of our decisions and project priorities. The other two that go along with that are accessibility and life safety. We have both the blessing and the curse of having a beautiful, historic campus. It’s a curse in that none of our buildings were handicap accessible. When I came to this campus, within a month or so of being here, we had a student who needed a wheelchair-accessible dorm room. We did not have one dormitory on this whole campus that was accessible. Not one.

We can’t say that anymore. Most of this campus is now accessible, but we still continue to look for opportunities that are project independent and where we think there’s a need. I’ll give you an example. One that’s on the horizon right now is the Faculty Club, which is not currently accessible. Last year, we replaced two 30-inch doors at the entrance with one 36-inch door, which is accessible, but there’s still a step to enter the building. This summer, we’re going to reconstruct the area leading up to it: Take out the tile, re-slope it, and re-tile it. We’re to the point now that we’re looking at accessibility to one-room and small buildings that we have on campus. We’re getting there.

What’s up next for your team?

It’s very hard for us to see past the occupancy of the Bush Science Center. You know, building it is one thing. Living with it and operating it in an efficient manner is a whole ’nother story. In order of magnitude, this is the most sophisticated, complicated, and challenging building we’ve ever operated. It’s giving us capabilities we’ve never had before. Along with those capabilities is the challenge of bringing our staff up to that level of knowledge, so they understand how to operate and maintain the building. It’ll definitely be a challenge but also a lot of fun.

In terms of projects, I’d say the next big one would be phase two of Strong Hall. We’re currently working knee-deep in the design of that building, and we’re really excited about that as well.

What sustainability feature would you like to add to Rollins that you haven’t already?

My favorite project is always my next project, and one we’re currently exploring is the Alfond Pool. We have a large, outdoor pool, which we use for athletic competitions. When we have meets in January and February, the pool gets very cold and we spend a lot of natural gas heating the pool. We’re currently exploring the installation of a new chiller on our distributive chilled water loop that would allow us to reuse all of the waste heat from the air conditioning process. Even in the middle of winter in Florida, the air conditioning is running somewhere on campus. We want to take that rejected heat from the air conditioning process and use that to heat the pool. Essentially, it would save us a little bit of electricity on air conditioning because we wouldn’t have to use the fan energy associated with a cooling tower. It saves water because we don’t have to use the water associated with a cooling tower. And it would save a ton of natural gas because we wouldn’t have to use that to heat the pool. We’re currently doing research to see if it is viable, but I’m pretty excited about it. I think it’s going to work for us.