Sustainable Stow Gets Green Light

The Clark team and Stow officials (left to right): Police Chief Mark Trefry, Dereck Ajumni, Heather Strom, Deanna Goldner, Dana Goodman, Nora Oliver, Prof. Will O'Brien, and Fire Chief Mike McLaughlin. (Courtesy of Heather Strom)

By Ellen Oliver
The Stow Independent, April 28, 2010

The Stow Energy Group and students from Clark University spent the last few months examining and evaluating Stow to assess the town’s green status and suggest improvements to help the town go greener.

On Monday April 26, the students presented their final sustainability plans, focusing on the Fire and Police departments, as well as options for engaging the community, renewable energy, and eco-mobility. The presentations were capped off by a tour of the new website.

Led by Professor and Stow resident Will O’Brien, the students presented a lot of practical information, the level of detail demonstrating the vast time and effort that went into their interactions with the town. The result was not a theoretical approach to going green, but rather nuts and bolts discussions supported by focus groups, surveys, and figures with costs, benefits, and payback times. “The kids did an awesome job. They were responsive and responsible,” said Bill Wrigley, Town Administrator. “It dovetails nicely with our other working groups.”

The first presentations looked at greening the Stow Fire and Police Stations. The students considered several areas in their study (energy efficiency, recycling and waste management, vehicle fleet, office supplies, and water quality) and considered the current status of green efforts, recommended short term actions, and possible future actions.

For example, the Fire Department has significant water concerns. Excess iron and manganese discolor the water and make the water’s odor and taste unsuitable for use, even for showering – the Fire Department goes to the Police Department to shower after a fire. The recommendation was a combination of a water filtration system ($180, plus $80/year for replacement filters) and a water softener (a $570 initial investment, plus installation costs). The students also wrapped in cost saving to be gained by not having to purchase bottled water for drinking use.

Recouping savings from the police fleet was another challenge. Police vehicles need to stay idling when in use to power the computers and radios. Wear and tear from quickly accelerating and decelerating led to shorter vehicle life and higher maintenance needs, including frequent battery replacements.

The students acknowledged that Chief Trefry had the idea to buy hybrid vehicles and had even placed an order for a 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid to replace a 2004 Crown Victoria (pending town approval). The Clark students estimated annual costs savings with the Hybrid Fusion could be more than $15,000 and have a payback period of one year, while still meeting all the specifications for police use. The students also identified a better choice for car batteries, meeting one of Chief Trefry’s concerns.

The Clark students also evaluated both departments using a Green Office Checklist. The Fire Department currently ranked “one-leaf” with 25 points while the Police Department scored 50 points for a “two leaf” designation. The 46 items on checklist included easier and more difficult options ranging from turning off lights to going completing paperless.

The main message with the checklist was that little things add up, in both positive and negative ways. Consistent recycling, turning off lights and reducing paper use adds up to savings, just as long showers and keeping unused appliances plugged in collectively add costs. As student Nora Oliver said in her presentation, “It’s about behavioral changes. A snowflake weighs nothing, but a lot can break a branch.”

The community-focused presentations started with a discussion of eco-mobility, ways to move about without relying on cars. Student John Mc Kenzie listed the economic, real estate and health benefits of greenways, citing studies from other areas where homes along rail trails sell faster and for higher prices than other homes in town.

The students tapped Clark’s mapping tools to help the Assabet River Rail Trail chart a path through Stow. “The map is a starting point,” explained Mc Kenzie, who discussed the transfer of files to Stow’s planning department to keep the project moving. “It’s very valuable,” said Ralph Fuller of the Stow’s Assabet River Trail Committee, who worked closely with the Clark students on this portion of the project.

Other discussions featured engaging the community, including the creation of a town “Green Team.” One of the students, Tom Rodriguez told how he was surprised by the existing green initiatives during one of the three focus group meetings. “I was chastised not to underestimate Stow’s environmental awareness,” he said with a smile.
During the renewable energy portion of the presentation, the students went beyond just describing general options, displaying maps that depicted possibilities for wind and solar power in the town. To see if your house is suitable for solar photovoltaics, go to the website and look under “Greening Stow – Helpful Hints” then select Solar Energy to view maps that assess the aspect and slope of properties around town. The solar portion of the website also has calculators and resources for funding to help your assessment.
Although the students determined that as a town Stow currently isn’t a strong candidate for a wind turbine, student Jenner Alpern explained, “The technology for renewable changes every year. We recommend that Stow reinvestigate wind again in a few years.” The group did present information on individual units since suitability will vary on different parcels in town.

The final Clark Sustainability plans can be read in their entirely on the website, under the Clark Collaboration link. Most of the checklists, cited websites, and tools are also located in links throughout the site.

If you are interested in joining the Stow Energy Group, who will likely be coordinating the Stow Green Team, please contact Arnie Epstein at or Sharon Brownfield at

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