Students and faculty in Vancouver Island University’s green building and renewable energy technician program are surprised at the university’s decision to suspend the two-year diploma program just three years after it started.
Program chairman Paris Polydorou said university officials suspended the program last year and recently decided not to take any new students next year either, which means no students will be in the program at all next fall.
“I was very upset when I heard about this second-year suspension,” said Polydorou. “I expect it will be cancelled.”
The green building program teaches students how to make buildings more energy efficient and about renewable energy applications in buildings. It prepares students to provide technical communication, design, assessment and evaluation services to professionals working on green building or renewable energy projects.
The program at VIU is one of few offered in western Canada, said Polydorou, and he believes there is interest in it – he received about a dozen e-mails and a few phone calls inquiring whether the institution was resuming admissions in the fall.
Last June, the former coordinator sent acceptance letters to 15 students just before the decision was made to suspend the course, he added, which is about the maximum number allotted per class.
“I think it’s a valuable program and I think there’s need for it,” said Polydorou. “Even locally, there are companies who are looking for the type of graduates we have.”
Ryan King, who graduates from the program this year, is also baffled by the suspension.
He said students in his class asked for some improvements, but he felt the program was generally in good shape and preparing students for careers in the real world.
“It’s something new pretty much across Canada,” said King. “There’s going to be tweaking that has to happen. This program is so important. The things we are learning are only becoming more and more relevant as time goes on.”
King said that a couple of courses were not specific enough for the kind of work students are being trained for and students also asked for more equipment to ensure they have plenty of hands-on experiences with green technology.
That wish was granted last year, said Polydorou, when the program received funding to equip three of the second-year lab classes with a variety of different renewable energy systems.
“As far as I can tell, we addressed the major issues we had, so I don’t know what made them suspend it,” he said. “I don’t know if bringing the program back would be easy if [the instructors] are not here.”
Toni O’Keeffe, VIU spokeswoman, said the university is reviewing the program because it is new and because there are only 10 people graduating this year.
“We have a responsibility to make sure the programs we’re running are relevant,” she said. “We want to make sure we get it right.”
The results of the review should be available in the next few months, said O’Keeffe, and she expects it will include recommendations on ways to improve the program, not a recommendation to cancel it altogether.
Industry reps says green expertise plays important role in process
Industry professionals say the gren building industry is growing and expertise inthe field is in demand.
Byron Gallant, co-owner of B. Gallant homes and president of the central Island branch of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, said he hopes the university can resolve any problems and continue to offer this program because this type of training is scarce in the construction industry.
“It’s difficult to find people who have any real construction knowledge of green technologies,” he said. “We have use for green designers.”
Gallant’s company aims to construct homes to at least the BuiltGreen Canada standard, he said, and the company employs someone with that knowledge.
Trained professionals are important because there’s a lot more to building an efficient home than just buying a “green” product and installing it, said Gallant.
Chris Erb, owner of SupErb Construction Ltd. and chairman of the Mid Island Construction Association, said if people are entering the program and not graduating or the university cannot find enough people interested, it does not make good business sense to continue offering the program the way it is.
He said the green building industry is growing – his company builds Built Green homes – but questioned how many Island companies could afford full-time help with the green portion of projects.
Many people like the idea of a “green” home, which is typically smaller and smarter, said Erb, but demand is still for large houses.