At NC State’s College of Education, future teachers in training have living examples of the popular waste management slogan they might teach one day.
For years, assistant professor Brian Matthews has prioritized the three R’s — reduce, reuse and recycle — in his role as the College’s facilities coordinator. In addition to teaching graphic communication and other technologies, Matthews is the College’s go-to source for coordinating repairs, renovations and other physical improvement projects — mostly in Poe Hall, the College’s headquarters.
In an approximately 130,000-square-foot building that’s nearly 50 years old, renovations happen often. But instead of throwing out all the old to make room for the new, Matthews saves reusable material that can be utilized in future projects.
“I like to reuse what we can. All the material has been made — taking all that energy to make it — so we try to use it more than once when we can,” he said.
Matthews’ resource-optimizing handiwork can be seen throughout Poe Hall. The work tables in the shop lab are reused. In one first-floor classroom, nearly the entire room is outfitted with reused material such as lighting, acoustic panels, whiteboards, projectors, chairs and tables. Many of the building’s digital signs were once part of a classroom that received a technology upgrade, and some rooms feature carpet tiles that once lined floors elsewhere in the building.
“All the time we try to repurpose things,” Matthews said.
Before the deconstruction of Harrelson Hall began on campus in May, Matthews donned a hardhat, safety vest and gloves on one of the last sweeps through the building to salvage materials that could be used elsewhere on campus. Already some of those materials are being reused at a satellite campus facility where Matthews regularly teaches and in a new educational yurt at the university’s J.C. Raulston Arboretum.
In addition to environmental benefits, Matthews’ efforts cut costs associated with buying new resources and sending material to local landfills. With material that cannot be reused — such as metal ceilings that were removed throughout Poe Hall’s seven floors — Matthews goes the extra mile to explore whether the material is recyclable. He also strives to improve the building’s energy efficiency during renovations, replacing old lighting with new energy-saving LEDs.
Occasionally, Matthews even uses a campus project as a learning experience for his students. A few years ago, one class had the opportunity to document, measure and develop designs for a renovation project in Nelson Hall.
“My students got a lot out of it — some real-life experience. Many had never had that before,” he said.
A firsthand perspective on the College’s resource optimization efforts may also help prepare graduates for careers in K-12 schools, where limited budgets are common.
“Schools have to make do and mend all the time,” Matthews said.
His day-to-day efforts of making the most of resources stem perhaps from decades of making the most of opportunities. Growing up in England, Matthews was a mountain and cave rescue volunteer, earning him the prestigious Duke of Edinburgh Award as a teenager and an opportunity to meet Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II.
After studying architecture, Matthews helped develop schools and colleges of education in countries like Grenada, Papua New Guinea and the Channel Islands before leading architectural technology at Wake Technical Community College, where he authored textbooks on computer-assisted drafting (CAD) that have been translated into 18 languages. In 1998 after several years of adjunct teaching at NC State, he joined the College of Education, where his architectural experience and can-do attitude benefit both students and employees.
“I never say I can’t do something,” he said. “I know I can always do something.”
Know an NC State student, staff or faculty member whose stewardship or sustainability efforts go above and beyond? Let us know