Temple University adapts campus to severe weather events

Extreme weather is more frequent and harsh due to climate change, posing risks to campus.

Temple University is adapting its standards in infrastructure, renovations, and new construction in an effort to prevent future damage from extreme weather. | BETSY MANNING / COURTESY

As severe weather becomes more frequent and intense due to climate change, Temple University is making adaptations to its standards for infrastructure, renovations and new construction to make buildings more resilient against worsening storms, flooding and temperature fluctuations.

The university’s adaptations include implementing stormwater management infrastructure to decrease floods and water pollution during major storms, improving building temperature and humidity regulation to account for frequent weather changes, fortifying power systems and investing in backup power sources in case of storm damage, said Rebecca Collins, director of sustainability. 

Extreme weather, like storms and heat waves, is becoming more frequent and severe due to increased temperatures and precipitation caused by human-induced climate change, possibly resulting in illness and death, destroying food and water supplies, damaging property and disrupting essential services, like phone lines and transportation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  

Temple’s Ambler Campus was forced to stop in-person instruction for more than a week after a tornado touched down on Sept. 1 and damaged several buildings, including tearing off the roof of Ambler’s West Hall, The Temple News reported. 

“There’s a real possibility that we will have issues supporting our students to learn.” Collins said. “We saw that example at Ambler, we had this really incredible force of nature that touched down on Ambler’s campus and caused an extreme amount of destruction.”

Increased fortifications against storms aren’t included in current repair projects for Ambler buildings, but Temple is requiring construction projects to include hardened areas, like stairwells and concrete structures, in many campus facilities to provide storm shelter areas, said Joe Monahan, the associate vice president of Facilities and Operations.  

Architects in Philadelphia must take measures to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings and adapt to extreme heat, sea level rise and flooding, said Fauzia Sadiq Garcia, an architecture professor. Measures can include adding porous materials, like water-permeable pavement and greenspace, into buildings, fortifying power systems and reducing energy use in buildings.

Temple’s buildings have some flood management infrastructure in place, like water basins beneath buildings to capture excess stormwater, water-permeable pavement on Liacouras and Polett Walks and green roofs, like the one on Charles Library, which absorb stormwater and help insulate buildings, Collins said. 

These adaptations are in place due to city building codes that Temple must follow, which require areas around construction to be able to absorb 1.5 inches of rainfall, the United States Green Building Council codes that Temple chooses to follow and the university’s individual desire to improve its stormwater management, Collins added. 

Landscaping, like trees and greenspaces, can also buffer buildings during storms and prevent some damage, Sadiq Garcia said.  

Temple has incorporated green building standards into university construction and renovation and aims to reach the silver tier — the second level — of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system in all of its new construction according to the 2019-20 Sustainability Annual Report.

Temple should also implement adaptations, like more shade and window tinting, to keep buildings cool on hotter days without increasing air conditioning use, which emits greenhouse gases and further exacerbates climate change, Sadiq Garcia said. 

“If we don’t build efficiently, then we might not have a place to live in 50 years,” Sadiq Garcia said. “We really need to tackle that.”

Investing in underground power lines and increasing renewable energy use can prevent electricity failures during storms by protecting the energy system from falling trees and high winds, Sadiq Garcia added. 

Main Campus currently has generators in each campus building in case of power failure and centralized power from steam, natural gas and reserved oil, which they would burn should all other power options fail, Monahan said.

“The entire East Coast could lose power and Temple will continue to run and continue to heat,” Monahan said. 

Ambler does not have the same centralized power system as Main Campus and relied on generators for power for several days after trees damaged power lines during the tornado on Sept. 1, Monahan said.

Temple must reduce emissions from buildings to reduce the university’s damage to the environment and achieve their sustainability goals, Sadiq Garcia said. 

“If we want to meet the targets for what Temple’s signed on as an agreement, then that really means that we have to take a hard look at how our buildings are operating now,” Sadiq Garcia said.

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