DuPage County's Award-Winning Campus Sustainability
For more than two decades DuPage County has been improving sustainability and environmental initiatives in the community and on its Wheaton campus. This work has made DuPage County a proud leader on multiple sustainability fronts. DuPage County was the first county in the State of Illinois to have won the Governor's Sustainability Award. DuPage County continues to pursue grants, awards, and any other means of achieving a sustainable future for its residents and maintain its leadership in environmental and sustainability programs.
Campus Ecosystems and Native Gardens
As glaciers surged and retreated across Illinois for millions of years, the landscape became flattened and enriched in rocks, minerals, and soil deposited by these glaciers. The unique diversity of materials underneath the land's surface fueled the agricultural and gravel industry booms here in Illinois. Besides the economic wealth found in the ground layers of DuPage County, the unique rock and soil blend also provides the foundation for the rich biodiversity seen only in the Midwest United States. The retreat of the last ice age was over 10,000 years ago. Since then, native vegetation has been evolving and adapting to thrive uniquely here in the Midwest, and of course, DuPage County.
The 193-acre DuPage County campus is home to native woodland, wetland, and prairie ecosystems as well as several native gardens. These ecosystems and native gardens are characterized by vegetation that was naturally established prior to European settlement and after the last ice age. The native areas on campus are historical snapshots of what the natural landscape of DuPage County was before western expansion. Besides being historical examples of the natural landscape, the native flora found on campus provide energy-packed food and habitat for butterflies, insects, birds, and other local animals that have also adapted to the County's changing climate and landscape. These native plants provide numerous benefits to the health and well-being of the infrastructure, employees, and visitors on campus. Unlike nonnative flora, established native vegetation does not require ongoing maintenance and provides economic stability in the form of ecosystem services like flood regulation.
Though established native plants require little to no maintenance, the habitat they reside in does. Nonnative invasive species are a large, established, and growing threat to the Midwest's native ecosystems. Invasive plants that thrive in the Midwest put exhaustive pressure on native species by either taking over potential habitats or outgrowing native species. When invasive plant species outcompete native plants, it can turn a once richly biodiverse habitat into a monoculture of only the invasive species. Invasive species combined with habitat loss, pollution, and climate change are just a few of the reasons native species are under immense pressure. Removal of invasive species, such as Rhamnus cathartica (common buckthorn), is an ongoing scheduled maintenance practice that DuPage County completes throughout the year. The Grounds Maintenance Section of the Division of Transportation actively maintains and protects the County campus from unwanted plant invaders.
421 JTK Administration Building Native Garden - The native garden is located at the east-facing entry off of the Heritage Gallery and can be viewed from all three floors of the building. The Grounds Maintenance Section of the Division of Transportation and County volunteers maintain the native gardens on campus. The native garden consists of dense grasses and flowers that border the sidewalk. Keep an eye out for informational signage, provided by the DOT Sign Shop, which helps to identify each native species.
421 JTK Administration Building Native Sedge Garden - On the west side of the JTK Administration Building, opposite the Native Garden, is the location of the campus sedge garden. Sedges look like grasses but are actually quite different. Approximately 75% of a native sedge's biomass exists underground. The deep root systems of sedges provide soil stabilization benefits on streambanks, prairies, and wetlands. Though frequently overlooked, sedges are key plants in many Illinois ecosystems and are showcased here on campus.
Campus Circular Gardens - The Wheaton campus has multiple public information signs for the delivery of important campus messages. From weather to COVID-19 information, these signs are great message boards for visitors and employees. When these signs were first installed, the County wanted to minimize the signs' environmental disturbance by also planting native circular gardens. These signs were built with encircling native gardens to give both an aesthetic and ecological benefit. There are three of these gardens found around campus.
Pollinator Meadow - An extensive meadow packed with native prairie plants runs along the east side of County Farm Road. This extensive meadow provides food for visiting pollinators. Currently, County staff is assessing this meadow and ways to improve its educational value. The addition of benches and informational signs for visitors to relax with and enjoy are currently under review.
Campus Ecosystems - On the far northwestern side of campus lies the woodland and wetland ecosystems. Bordering the railroad tracks to the north and residential areas to the west, over 23 acres are dedicated to the preservation of these ecosystems. The tree diversity found here combined with the diversity on the rest of the campus has earned the campus the status of a Level 1 Arboretum. This area is maintained annually to eradicate invasive species. The Winfield Creek cuts through this natural area and acts as a natural border to the southwest portion of the campus.
A campus walking path map gives employees and visitors a guided route to visit the most notable highlights of the County campus. From swans to the veteran's memorial sundial, there is a lot to see on campus. The "JTK" 0.6-mile path is the recommended path for those looking to view the native garden, sedge garden, pollinator meadow, and circular gardens in one trip. To note, this path is subject to construction as the campus looks to repave its noncompliant walkways and obsolete sidewalks. However, all sites will still be viewable during construction.
The 421 JTK Administration Building cafeteria was the location of a vegetative roof installation in 2013. Rather than using conventional roofing materials and methods, the vegetative or "green" roof consists of a waterproof membrane, soil, and vegetation. Beneath the waterproof membrane is an electric leak detection system. A network of electrical wiring webs beneath the waterproof membrane can detect and locate any water leaks giving staff precise details of how and where to fix any breaches.
Green roofs combat many environmental problems caused by extensive urban surface area. The vegetative roof delays roof water runoff by up to 65%, offering extensive flood regulation not provided by conventional roofs. Further, urban heat islands from concrete and asphalt absorb solar radiation and lead to increased temperatures in urban environments. These increased temperatures cause increased energy usage, heat-related illness and death, and air pollution. The vegetative roof combats this by providing extra cooling via shading, reduced thermal mass, and insulation. Having roof vegetation also provides habitat for local insects and animals. These roofs are expected to last twice as long as conventional ones.
Green Buildings - What is LEED?
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is an internationally recognized standard in building design, providing owners and operators with a framework to implement measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. LEED standards can apply to individual buildings, homes, neighborhoods and communities.
LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health:
- sustainable site development
- water savings
- energy efficiency
- materials selection
- indoor environmental quality
LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2000 and current LEED rating systems are developed through an open, consensus-based process led by LEED committees.
There are two LEED certified buildings on campus. The first, built in 2012, is the Jeanine Nicarico Child Advocacy Center. This building marks the campus's LEED gold-certified building. This center provides services to families with children where the parents are living apart. Since children frequently visit this building, it is an ideal location to pursue advancements in environmental and energy designs. When designing an efficient and sustainable building, it is important to consider that reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased energy savings are only part of the well-being improvement the building is making. Reduced air pollution, improved ventilation, natural lighting, and native outdoor landscapes all improve the physical and mental health of the building occupants. DuPage County wanted to achieve physical and mental health improvements for its visiting families and employees. This desire to improve the well-being of visitors was a large contributing factor to choosing the Jeanine Nicarico Child Advocacy Center as a LEED gold-certified building. A live viewing of the photovoltaic panel system can be viewed here. The second LEED-certified building on campus is the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. This building is located next to the Jeanine Nicarico Child Advocacy Center at 418 North County Farm Road.