Caroline Ward, S&E Editor
Last fall, The College of Wooster introduced a novel vehicle to the campus fleet: an electric van. Although the first of its kind on the Wooster campus, this transition had been a long time coming according to Angila Tracy, COW Facilities Operations Manager. Tracy is in charge of updating and replacing “rusty, problematic vehicles” as time and money allows, and the fleet was in need of an overhaul—according to Tracy, “the entire campus fleet consists of roughly 50 vehicles, and the campus trades technicians have been driving very outdated [vehicles] on a daily basis for many years.” The fleet was evaluated by campus mechanic Mitch Lietzke, and the most problematic vehicles were identified for potential replacement. Fifth in line for replacement was the van of an electric shop employee, Steph Porter. Trade vans like these are only driven locally on campus, and Tracy began to consider the idea of an electric vehicle. According to Tracy, “[Porter’s] van was so old that she was crawling in the passenger side of her van to get in to drive daily.”
After the van was bought, the inside was retrofitted to prepare for its trade operations. The van was fully insulated and shelving installed for Porter’s tools, ladder and general equipment. The van’s electric source of power offers real savings and efficiency benefits. “As an example, Steph filled her old van up with fuel twice a month,” Tracy says. During the pandemic, with skyrocketing gas prices, Porter was paying roughly $90 every two weeks—or $2,160 a year—just for gas to get around campus, and this didn’t even include oil changes or the normal wear and tear on a very old van like Porter’s. Tracy estimates that in total, the cost of maintaining the old van was upwards of $3,000 a year. Without the need for gas or oil changes, the new electric vehicle eliminates this cost entirely.
The vehicle update was made possible through the College’s “‘vehicle savings’ account,” established a few years ago by the Facilities Operations team and the Business Office. The budget was approved for the new electric van, and research into sustainable, cost-effective options began. “The vehicle was a little more than our approved budget,” says Tracy, “so I began thinking of creative ways to make the difference up for the cost.” In collaboration with Pallotta Ford of Wooster, Facilities Operations were able to trade two old vans for a brand new electric van, all within the budget, and a 240V electric charger was installed in the electric shop. Tracy estimates that the van will need to charge once every three weeks at the current rate of mileage. “My department also pays the fuel invoice for the campus fleet, and that has grown exponentially the last few years…I’m very excited to try this new van out and see how it fits with our campus and sustainability mission.”
Tracy says that sustainability is deeply important to the Facilities Operations team. Not only do EVs produce lower lifecycle emissions, generate 25-50% savings over filling up at pump, are three to four times more efficient than gas powered vehicles, and have lower maintenance costs than traditionally powered vehicles, but state and federal incentives are available to make them more affordable. “By 2035, a predicted 85 million electric vehicles (EVs) will hit the roads in the United States and Canada,” Tracy explains. “This van is a test for campus to see how well these vehicles fit into our environment as well as our mission to sustainability.”
Hopefully, this sustainable addition to the campus fleet is just the first of many—as for next steps, the Facilities Operations team has plans to expand the project further. Currently, the campus has one charging station at the Rubbermaid/Lowry parking lot, but the team is hoping to add more in the near future, even looking into a new car share program with electric vehicles. “Our team is very excited to begin the EV upgrades on campus,” Tracy says. “We really hope that this van works out well for our mission and the campus can explore moving more into this direction in the future.”