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Staff, college partners tell of S.E.R.T. history, impact

August 29, 2014
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville News

If Iowa Lakes Community College's commitment to building the Sustainable Energy Resources & Technologies (S.E.R.T.) building was a leap of faith, it was one based on hard study of future career demands.

And the economic impact of the facility on Estherville could be massive.

The building, which will house the water quality and sustainable and sustainable aquatic resources, HVAC, electrical technology and engineering technology programs in addition to serving as a facility for industrial training and as headquarters for WindTest for its expansion into the United States, is in itself a model of environmental stewardship with its use of recycled materials and renewable energy.

For Gary Phillips, professor and coordinator of the college environmental studies program and water quality and sustainable aquatic resources, recycling at the college is nothing new. For the past eight years Phillips' students have been recycling right in the classroom.

Phillips obtained recycling bins for white paper, colored paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and glass and over the years his students have kept 500 pounds of waste out of landfills.

"And that's just one classroom," Phillips observed. "If we expanded that to the college it would be absolutely huge."

Phillips' ideas for recycling have even reached the corporate level. The Pilot Rock company, a leading manufacturer of equipment for campgrounds, took his idea of manufacturing dimensional lumber from recycled plastic. The result is picnic tables made from recycled materials - distributed nationwide.

Using renewable energy is nothing new to the college. Bob L'Heureux, college vice president of administration, said the college wind turbine south of Estherville started generating electricity Feb. 14, 2005. The college received a $500,000 Department of Energy grant for the $2 million project. Energy is generated then sold to the City of Estherville. This June 30, the college ended the year with a positive balance of $1,400 from energy generated. L'Heureux said future revenue will likely be used for general scholarships.

Beyond that, having its own turbine has been invaluable to students in the wind energy and turbine technology program.

"It's been a very good facility for our students to learn from," said L'Heureux.

Jan Lund, college board of trustees president, said the idea to buy the property came up when she heard Medieval Glass was closing. She thought it would fit well with the college wind program building to the west. The board agreed to put a bid in for the building - and they got it.

While the city lost one industry with Medieval Glass, what it has now gained in return is immeasurable.

"Industrial training is going to play a big part," said Lund. "I'm excited for Estherville to have this facility here."

"The board has done an outstanding job," said Lund of the trustees taking a visionary leadership role in acquiring and building the new S.E.R.T. facility. "We've moved forward and we have a vision for what we want with the college."

Lund said the facility will help provide recession-proof jobs and fit well with the college's STEM program.

Jo Rogers, executive director of community and business relations, noted the support the college has had with corporate partners. Snap-on contributed $100,000 to have naming rights to a room.

Rogers also cited support from Edison Mission and Iberdrola Renewables in the wind energy and turbine technology building and Megger which provided diagnostic metering equipment for students. Another corporate partner is Indusoft which provided software for Doug Enger's automation classes.

"There are just so many industry partners," Rogers said, envisioning more in the future.

"We want them to come visit and see how important it is to provide that seamless transition for students to enter the workforce."

Eric Effern, division manager of WindTest, said the company came to the US because that was where it's customers were going.

"Our customers are going here so we are following them," said Effern.

WindTest will do certification measurements on prototype turbines for manufacturers. Their services also include enhancing power output of existing facilities and research and development. The company's market ranges from the US to India and China.



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