Enabling their best work: increasing comfort levels of mental health educators and students through financed building improvements

William James College, located in Newton, Mass., offers accredited mental health professional training programs, including a program that trains veterans training to treat other veterans. Financing from GreenerMass has made it possible to begin addressing issues with building comfort, improving the physical environment for students and educators.


From November 2–15, 2020, William James College is hosting a free virtual screening of “Visions of Warriors,” a film featuring four veterans who took up photography to help battle mental health issues. The College, which is home to two military psychology programs, including a program designed to Train Vets to Treat Vets® (TVTV), will also host a live interactive discussion with the filmmaker and student=, alumni-, and faculty-member veterans working and studying at the College.

The TVTV program is just one example of the innovative work William James College has been doing since its inception in 1974: providing experiential education to graduate-level psychologists training to meet the many unique needs of populations struggling with mental health issues, including minorities and veterans.

Because this small college incorporates extensive fieldwork into its experiential learning model, its current campus comprises just one 85,000-square-foot building in Newton, Massachusetts. Built in 1971 and occupied by the school in 2012 (and then purchased in 2016), this former office building primarily accommodates administrative staff and faculty offices. The building has aging floor-to-ceiling windows around its perimeter, which, over time, have contributed to condensation and insulation issues within the building. And this has led to significant challenges with managing the building’s HVAC system.

An investigation through occupant engagement

To get a better understanding of the College facility’s impacts on its occupants, GreenerU investigators led a “walking focus group,” touring the building to check in on individuals’ experiences of the facility’s climate, functionality, and comfort levels.

This investigation helped GreenerU understand some of the difficulties of managing heating and cooling in a space that has different microclimates, depending on how close one is to the windows. Heating and air conditioning 1970s-vintage office spaces like these often means some individuals work in very different temperatures, depending on where they are in the building, and that thermostats are unlikely to get an accurate read of what building occupants actually experience.

Three proposed solutions emerged that will need to work in tandem to resolve this heating and cooling dilemma: replace all the windows, replace the air-handling units, and update the building management system and controls.

GreenerMass financing made controls work at William James College cost-beneficial

While window and air-handler unit replacement at the College will require a larger institutional investment, GreenerU’s financing program, GreenerMass, turned out to be the perfect solution to fund updated controls. GreenerU developed an energy management system for William James College, which included the following:

  • Installation of a new Distech energy management system, complete with central server, graphical user interface, trend database, and new DDC equipment controllers
  • Implementation of new optimized controls sequences on HVAC equipment
  • Performance of complete system testing, commissioning, operator training, and final turnover
  • Parts warranty for the complete system during the duration of the entire program
  • Quarterly preventive maintenance visits for the entire program

The new energy management system puts temperature setpoints on each thermostat, helping to reduce the load on the full HVAC system and allowing staff and faculty with interior offices to regulate their temperatures better.

New system provides immediate energy and cost savings

William James College’s new building management controls save energy: a total of 5,732 MMBtus each year, in fact, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 303 metric tons of carbon equivalent every year. That is equivalent to avoiding burning 34,126 gallons of gasoline each year, or taking 65.5 cars off the road.

What’s more, the program saves William James College an estimated $20,000 in energy bills annually during the first seven years of operation—and more than $100,000 annually thereafter, after the installation costs are repaid. Based on an analysis of the building energy system and installed improvements to date, these savings could help enable the College to afford windows and air-handling unit replacements, which will ultimately ameliorate the school’s overall HVAC challenges and conserve substantially more energy.

“The GreenerMass program was a great deal for us,” said Dan Brent, Vice President of Finance and Operations at William James College. “We were able to replace an outmoded building automation system with an entirely new system and expect the project to pay for itself completely from savings over the next seven years.”

Brent was also enthusiastic about the service the College received from GreenerU. “GreenerU’s staff were consummate professionals both in the caliber of work they delivered and the way they kept us informed every step of the way.”

When there is important work to do such as treating mental health issues—especially during a global pandemic—no one wants to be sidelined by physical discomfort. Building climate is one subtle, but important, way to help support faculty and staff on campuses like William James College focus on the tasks at hand: training tomorrow’s mental health professionals to be the best caregivers for veterans, minority populations, and many others seeking relief.

GreenerMass is still seeking inquiries from interested colleges, universities, hospitals, healthcare centers, arts organizations, and other nonprofit organizations across Massachusetts that are looking for a cost-effective way to finance building energy-efficiency first costs. Contact us today to find out whether your institution is eligible.

Click here to register for William James College’s public screening of Visions of Warriors.

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