Cold could unfreeze college calendars

An unexpectedly cold winter this year could bring longer than usual Christmas or midsemester breaks for some of the nation's college students. The strain of growing energy costs on tight budgets could force vacation changes on some campuses, says Paul Knapp, executive director of the Association of Physical Plant Administrators of Universities and Colleges. It all depends on just how severe a winter lies ahead -- something no college administrator knows far enough in advance to plant before the fall term starts.

"Any decision to shut down campuses for longer than usual periods would probably be made very quickly --Knapp.

Most campuses, he explains, now not only have fuel-savings programs built into the budget, but backup plans ready to turn to in an emergency. Usually these include further cutbacks in building temperatures and lighting, more consolidation of evening activities and classes, and trimming of evening entertainment and athletic events.

What is really needed, however, in Knapp's view, is a greater willingness on the part of colleges and universities to draft energy-saving plans five to 10 years in advance, rather than from winter to winter.

He suggests that institutions in colder climates should seriously consider shifting the academic calendar into the warmer summer months. Conceding it is a "very sensitive issue" that is getting little serious discussion, he asks, "Why should summer vacation necessarily continue to be a tradition -- why shouldn't[ vacationing] students go skiing rather than camping?"

Most colleges and universities have found that energy conservation already has produced major savings in some cases into the millions of dollars.

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