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Catawba College Center for Environment Takes Mission to Next Level

June 4, 2004

Category: Environmental Science

The Catawba College Center for the Environment is ratcheting up its efforts in the community. “We’re taking our mission to the next level,” says Dr. John Wear Jr., center director.

The Center for the Environment recently added two individuals to its staff – Brandi Orbin as coordinator of fund- raising and volunteers and Kimberly Betts as executive administrative assistant. “This allows us to increase our involvement in quality-of-life issues that face the county and its municipalities,” Wear says.

The Center for the Environment is launching a Friends of the Center Membership Drive to involve more citizens in the center’s projects. “This will not only help fund community- focused efforts,” Wear says. “It will also help to keep our members informed about the issues that are important to the physical and economic health of the area.”

In addition, the center is also in the process of revitalizing and enhancing its website, , which will be operational in July. During the summer, the staff will add information to this site that other communities may find useful as they deal with many of the same issues that face officials in Rowan.

The center has taken a leadership role in the community and the region since its inception 10 years ago. It was recognized for the construction of one of the first green buildings in the state. In addition, it has lent its expertise and assistance to everything from land conservation to watershed protection and greenway development.

Wear notes that the center’s goal has never been to focus on what is wrong but rather to work with others to enhance the quality of life in Rowan County. “A good example of that is the way we work with the Sustainable Community Development Commission on the Clean Air Initiative,” he says. “That group is made up of people from many walks of life. They all add a valuable perspective to the discussions. Together, we are able to do so much more than if we acted separately.”

The Clean Air Initiative is the center’s current focus. It involves an array of efforts -- from promoting walkable communities and preserving the tree canopy to assisting the Rowan-Salisbury school system as it makes plans to retrofit school buses with diesel oxidation catalysts and the city of Salisbury as it explores the possibility of converting its fleet to ultra-low sulfur biodiesel.

“This county and a number of others in the region have been faced with the air quality issue,” Wear says, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency’s placing Rowan and seven other counties in the Piedmont on the federal bad air list. “It’s time that we reinforce our commitment to this community by playing a more active role in issues such as this.”

Gus Andrews, chair of the Rowan County Commission, notes that Wear and the center provide valuable information for elected officials as they deal with the challenges of maintaining the quality of life for the citizens of the county.
“The center’s association with the SCDC provides Rowan with a resource that other counties simply do not have,” he says. “As chairman of the Rowan County Commissioners, it is a relief to have the interest and leadership that Dr. Wear and the center can bring to these challenges.”

Dyke Messinger, president of Power Curbers Inc. and a board member of the economic development group the Committee of 100, notes that more and more people are realizing that economic development and the environment go hand in hand. “A company locates to a new area for two principal reasons,” he says. “The first is incentives and the second is quality of life. Environmental matters are tied to our economic future.”

Dr. Robert Knott, Catawba College president, is pleased that the center is able to use its expertise for the benefit of the community. “The center clearly provides enrichment opportunities for our students, such as the ecological preserve and the sustainable facility that houses the center, but it also connects what the college has to offer with what the community needs,” he says.

“The Clean Air Initiative is a good example,” Knott says. “We’re glad the center can serve as a catalyst to help energize the community around environmental issues.”

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