From left to right, Julianna Musumeci, Ryan Cote and Nicholas Shepard stand outside of the University Center building on April 18. The trio teamed up to create a proposal to replace the outdated lighting fixtures in the building and the campus recreation center.

Three University of Montana students have teamed up to create a proposal to replace outdated lighting fixtures with sustainable, energy-saving versions in the University Center and campus recreation center. 

Their proposal is essentially a large upgrade project. 

“Basically what we’re doing is we’re taking the old, inefficient lights and we’re replacing them with LEDs,” said Ryan Cote, one of the students behind the plan. “Then we’re doing something called retrocommissioning, which is upgrading the systems, like heating, air conditioning, ventilation, that could be faltering.” 

They made the proposal through KRELF, the Kless Revolving Energy Loan Fund. According to its website, the fund “allows students to propose projects that save energy on campus using money generated through a $6 opt-out student sustainability fee.” 

The projects must meet certain criteria to be selected, including being student-backed and involving auxiliary buildings at UM, like the University Center and campus recreation facilities. 

Julianna Musumeci, one of the students behind the proposal, had the idea to work on a KRELF proposal surrounding the outdated lighting in the University Center and campus rec in the spring of 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but was unable to make the project come to fruition on her own after the pandemic hit. 

Then, in the fall semester, the other two students, Cote and Nicholas Shepard, took an Environmental Citizenship course with Musumeci where they were divided into groups to work on a semester-long project. 

“Our teacher told us we had to have a project we were working on all semester and he said that we could use KRELF, and I thought this seemed like an awesome opportunity to continue working on this project because it had stalled out with COVID,” Musumeci said. 

Musumeci pitched the project to her professor and the class, and Cote and Shepard soon joined in. The three have been working together on the KRELF proposal since. 

Cote said another aspect of the project is contracting with McKinstry, a company that will be responsible for ensuring the work behind the trio’s KRELF proposal gets completed. 

“They’re guaranteeing energy savings, which, for the University, equates to money being saved,” Cote said. 

Cote added that if anything goes wrong with their work, McKinstry has guaranteed that they will return to fix any issues. 

Overall, the project is estimated to cost approximately $242,000, funds that come from KRELF’s large building fund. The trio said the energy savings that come as a long-term result of their proposal will far exceed the expenditure. 

“In the past couple decades at UM, the issue of sustainability has become mainstream,” Shepard said. 

Shepard added that the sustainability theme at UM is a draw for prospective students, and the KRELF funding for this project will demonstrate that UM is serious about committing to its sustainability goals. 

Musumeci also emphasized that the possible savings that come down the line as a result of the project’s potential implementation is also important. 

Musumeci, Cote and Shepard’s KRELF proposal was approved on Tuesday morning by the KRELF committee, and will receive funding for its implementation.  

For other students interested in bringing forward KRELF proposals in the future, Musumeci says to go for it. She said that the resources on campus are helpful, like sustainability coordinator Eva Rocke, who Musumeci, Cote and Shepard all said played a role in helping to develop their project. 

“It’s not as daunting as I thought it would be,” Musumeci said. “It seems like it is and there’s a lot of work involved, but it’s worth it because you can make a real difference for the University and for your fellow students.”