The Borough of Collegeville unanimously passed the Collegeville Borough Sustainability Plan in December 2014. Campus Sustainability Planner (and author of Ursinus College’s own sustainability plan), Shannon Spencer interviewed the two Montgomery County Planning Commission (MCPC) staff members who spearheaded the plan: Joseph Nixon, formerly with MCPC and now with the Philadelphia Water Department, and Jon Lesher, an environmental planner at MCPC, as well as Geoff Thompson, Collegeville’s Borough Manager. This is a synopsis of those interviews.
In 2011, the Borough of Collegeville was approached by Montgomery County Planning Commission staff about the possibility of writing a sustainability plan for the Borough. The issues that face Collegeville are suburban in nature (commuting and energy use) and presented the MCPC with an opportunity to work on those issues within the context of a sustainability plan. According to Joseph Nixon, “Collegeville was perfect because MCPC has a long-standing relationship with the borough and we knew we would be able to draw on the knowledge base of the Collegeville Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) as well as staff from Ursinus College.” For the Borough’s part, Borough Manager Geoff Thompson said, “We wanted a plan for the borough to be energy and environmentally efficient. The plan will be of great assistance in guiding the borough towards sustainability. Additionally, the plan will help the borough obtain and/or leverage grant funds for various energy savings and environmental projects.”
The first step after identifying the community was to identify and recruit steering committee members. Seven people who represented important stakeholders in the community and who were willing to take ownership of the plan were recruited by Nixon and his colleague Jon Lesher. They were looking for stakeholders who “would be committed to sustainability, had professional expertise, and who knew the borough and its issues,” said Nixon. These stakeholders made up the steering committee; they were: Rachel Morrison (CEDC), Andrea Baptiste (resident and former Council member), Geoff Thompson (Collegeville Borough Manager), William Flederbach (resident), Dr. Patrick Hurley (Ursinus Environmental Studies Department), Dr. Richard Wallace (Ursinus Environmental Studies Department and resident), and Shannon Spencer (Ursinus Office of Sustainability and resident). Lesher and Nixon were the primary organizers and writers of the Collegeville plan. They pulled together the steering committee, did the data collection, helped the stakeholders create the goals and action items, provided them with suggestions and direction, wrote the plan, and then incorporated additional input/suggestions to the plan from the steering committee members.
The planning process took three and a half years and represented a substantial time investment from the MCPC employees. The plan was originally presented to the Borough Council in June 2014 and then was presented for a final time in December. The Council voted unanimously to approve the plan at that time. The plan is downloadable from the Borough website and on the Ursinus Office of Sustainability website.
Collegeville is the second municipality in Montgomery County to write and approve a sustainability plan. According to Lesher, “Cheltenham Township has a completed municipal sustainability plan and Pottstown Borough has recently begun the process.”
When asked why having a sustainability plan was important for the Borough, both Nixon and Lesher noted its benefit as a roadmap of sorts: one that the Borough can follow as it works to improve its resilience to climate change. They also noted that the Sustainability Plan will make it more competitive for grant funding. Lesher stated that, “It shows the community that the Borough government will strive to be a leader when it comes to sustainable activities. And, if the Borough can do it, so can other members of the community.” Notably, the plan gives residents an accountability tool for their government.
The Borough of Collegeville is wasting no time in moving ahead with implementing their new plan. When asked what they will focus on first, Thompson said, “We are currently attempting to reduce energy consumption in borough hall. A grant to power borough hall with solar panels was submitted last summer (we did not get it) and we are currently starting the conversion of the existing borough hall lights to LED lights. The energy saving is expected to be 48%. “
Nixon and Lesher stated the importance of taking concrete actions. Their message was clear: a plan is just taking up bandwidth unless it’s being implemented. Nixon suggested taking some easy and effective first steps similar to those we’ve taken at Ursinus: replacing inefficient lights and vehicles, limiting idling, shutting off lights and computers, and lowering thermostats. He also noted the importance of the Ursinus connection, stating that “it is also vital for the borough to actively pursue partnerships with Ursinus College and the CEDC. Both are terrific resources that benefit Collegeville, and would benefit with continued partnership with the borough.”
MCPC has a role to play as well, according to Nixon: “MCPC has a long-standing contract for community planning work with the borough and implementation can be part of that contract. MCPC would be particularly helpful if the borough wants help with grant writing or preparing other materials related to the plan.” MCPC is, as Lesher pointed out, “available to the Borough as a resource for information and can also help plan future initiatives.” As the Borough’s planning consultant, MCPC will be involved well beyond the adoption of the plan and into the implementation process.
So how is this related to Ursinus’ own efforts toward becoming more sustainable? Ursinus has partnered with the Collegeville Borough on a number of grant proposals for tree plantings, rain gardens, and stormwater education projects. We hope that this type of collaboration will become more common now that both entities have sustainability plans which have overlapping goals of education, natural resource protection (particularly with regard to stormwater) and energy use reduction. We look forward to working on mutually beneficial projects together in the future.
Interested in getting involved?
The best way to start is to stay informed and get involved. The world, after all, is run by those who show up. And participating in local events is an excellent way to get involved in your government. The Borough website has information on upcoming meetings. Most Borough Council meetings are open to the public. Lesher’s advice: “Look for opportunities to participate and then follow through and be a part of events. Residents and students can also bring ideas to the Borough government and champion their causes.” Nixon suggested volunteering, classwork, student internships (both Borough and CEDC), and possibly forming an Environmental Advisory Council (EAC), to take some of the workload off of the borough’s limited staff.
If you are interested in getting involved with sustainability initiatives on campus or are interested in pursuing collaborative research or grant proposals, please contact the Office of Sustainability staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact one of our faculty members in the Environmental Studies Department: Patrick Hurley (email@example.com), Richard Wallace (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Leah Joseph (email@example.com).