City's new Sustainability Center officially opens for business

mowen@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 11, 2013 

On a wall just inside the entrance to the city’s new Sustainability Center recycling facility, a Native American proverb reads: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”

Deputy City Manager David Arrington invoked that proverb Wednesday morning as he addressed a crowd of over 100 at the center’s grand opening, saying that it represents “our responsibility to future generations.”

“Educational programs are a key element here,” Arrington said. “This Sustainability Center will be a learning center, like the center at Oxbow Meadows.”

Public Works Director Pat Biegler, who has spearheaded the drive to build the center, echoed Arrington’s focus on children and education as keys to making it a success.

She said if the center’s educational component can teach children the importance of recycling, they will in turn educate and motivate their parents.

Columbus recycles only about 5 percent of its solid waste, Biegler said. If that can be raised to 40 percent, that would expend the life of the Pine Grove Landfill from its current 28 years to 60 years.

“Forty percent is a possible number,” Biegler said. “I’d like to see us get to that level in the first year.”

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson said the center represents “a new chapter in waste management in Columbus.”

“The center allows us to recycle in a way that offsets the cost of waste management,” Tomlinson said. “It will also allow us to save money on the landfill. It costs tens of millions of dollars to operate and close landfills.”

Also planned for the center’s site, which is off of Sacerdote Lane in the shadow of the Pine Grove Landfill, will be a composting center that will also offset some of the costs of maintaining the landfill.

Once it is operating, the compost will be mixed with soil mined from the surrounding area to make good topsoil with which to cap landfill cells as they are closed, and for other city landscaping projects, Arrington said.

The landfill may soon also offer some savings back to the center, too, Arrington said. They city will soon begin capturing the methane gas that is a byproduct of the decaying landfill material. The gas will be used to power electric generators that will provide power for the center and possibly for the nearby Muscogee County Jail, he said.

The 54,000 square foot facility had a total price tag of $8.5 million, including construction, infrastructure, furnishing and equipment, Arrington said. It was financed by a bond issue that will be paid off with 2008 Other Local Option Sales Tax revenues.

The building's construction is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified and features a "green" roof, rainwater reclamation, skylights, solar panels, low water use plumbing, recycled building materials, high thermal insulation and water-efficient landscaping, Arrington said.

Biegler said the city’s old facility was capable of producing 8-10 bales of recycled material a day. One day last week, with the new plant operating at only 20 percent capacity, it produced 60 bales, she said.

In addition to curbside pickup, the city also operates four recycling collection points for residents to drop off recyclables. Those are at the Welcome Center on Williams Road, Cooper Creek Park, Sacerdote Lane and at the current recycling facility on Victory Drive.

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