Mesa Community College’s Red Mountain campus is leading the way as an environmentally friendly college campus. After receiving the LEEDS Gold Certification, Red Mountain has become recognized by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) as part of the Garden for Life program.The East Mesa campus was finished in 2001 and currently sits on 98 acres of the Sonoran desert. From the beginning of its heritage, Red Mountain has developed an “environmental ethic” as stated by Dr. Dennis Wilson.
Dr. Wilson is a biology professor on campus who was instrumental helping to establish the eco-friendly culture at Red Mountain. “There’s been an ethic that we’ve designed this campus around, which is this environmental ethic. In other words, embracing the natural world around the grounds that we’re in,” Wilson said. He emphasizes the campus is unique because of its incorporation of the local geography versus the typical repurposing of the land.
At the south end of campus sits the beautiful Saguaro building. The mindset of the construction was very different than that of other buildings on college campuses. The Saguaro building serves as a very diverse center housing not only four biology labs, the performing arts center, and the staffing offices, but also a special type of life. This building gives a diverse meld of both science and music.
Wilson added, “We wanted to make sure that when you came into this building, even though it was a multipurpose building, it screamed biology”. The answer came with the implementation of adding aquariums and terrariums containing only Arizona-based plants and animals. From the moment you enter the main doors, the biggest terrarium sits with four different types of Rattlesnakes, three non-venomous snakes, a Sonoran Desert toad and a Gila Monster.
Professor Griffin Logue spoke out about the wildlife housed in the various locations on campus. “Part of the focus here is to display these animals that first off people don’t commonly have interaction with, but also there’s a lot of negative connotation around”. Logue emphasized the more contact people have with these animals, the more they become attached to them.
This attachment people develop with this animals helps the national environmental effort to preserve wildlife. This relationship developed through further knowledge of our surroundings is quintessential in the conservation efforts we make in our personal lives. The simple phrase “knowledge is power” plays a role in these circumstances.
Red Mountain also plays a role in the lives of the endangered species life in Arizona. After teaming up with the Arizona Game and Fish department and the United States Wildlife department, the Cienega located in the very heart of the campus became used as a sanctuary for two distinct types of endangered fish life. Wilson explained, “We’re acting as a reserve site for these endangered species because their natural habitat is disappearing. So, to preserve them we’ve got these non-natural ecosystems where have different populations, and we’re one of them.”
The campus is only one of few institutions in the entire state to fill this role as a refugium as Dr Wilson explained. This adds to the prestige of the North American Native Plant Society Founders award given to Red Mountain above all candidates in the US, for the conservation efforts to maintain the desert life as sustainable as possible. In early 2016, Red Mountain again was praised as a Certified Wildlife Habitat.
“Let’s manage for conservation, not necessarily a manicured lawns.” Wilson chimed. The usage of xeriscaping also plays a role on campus. By using all natural and native plants which require much less supplemental watering the campus conserves about sixty percent more water than the traditional college campus of its size.
Vice Provost Nora Amavisca Reyes spoke about the learning opportunities the college provides through this thought process of keeping things natural. “It is a great opportunity to educate others” Reyes added. “Even I myself am being educated. We have incredible, passionate experts in these areas here on campus.”
The naturalist viewpoint of the administration has not always been easy to stick to, however, the ethics have never been compromised. Reyes admitted, “We have had changes in grounds maintenance and this is an ongoing commitment that we have as a campus. We have challenges that are posed and arise and we have to confront those challenges to again go back to that ethic underlying why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Red Mountain has shown us the effort to aid our planet is worth more than any single award. A consistent effort must be made to lessen the strain placed on the native environment of our beloved Mesa. Mesa Community College has taken a great step in the right direction by educating its students to respect the plants and animals surrounding the hectic campus life. Now the responsibility falls on us to follow the excellent example our Administration has given.