Seeing Shelby County through green-tinted lenses

Published 1:06 pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

By BRANDY HOLT / Guest Columnist

The James Wylie Shepherd Observatory (JWSO) is another one of Montevallo’s treasures.

The JWSO is the most state-of-the-art public astronomical facility in Alabama, and is also one of the few facilities in the country that is accessible to people of all disabilities. The JWSO also strives for green, sustainable construction and operation in every aspect of the facility as it continues to grow.

The observatory is located roughly three miles from the main campus on the University of Montevallo’s 150-acre Gentry Springs property. The site of a former construction landfill for the university, JWSO sustainability enhancements will utilize sunflower gardening to extract pollutants via phytoremediation.

This semester’s project entails the construction of the Command Center, which will include a control room, storage area and restrooms. It will be a “green” facility, with self-composting toilets, solar path lighting, a rain water collection/filtration system, and a 1.4 kilowatt solar generator.

The eight solar panels will be connected to the Alabama Power electrical grid and will generate enough clean energy to fully offset all energy usage at the JWSO facility, a first for any campus building in the state of Alabama.

The long-term goal of these sustainability enhancements is to allow the JWSO complex to become Platinum-LEEDS certified. LEED is an independent, third party verification system that certifies facilities for environmental responsibility. Upon completion, the JWSO will be the second Platinum-LEEDS building project in the state.

Another “green” feature of the project is the landscaping, which will be designed by Dr. Jason Powell, proprietor of local Petals from the Past gardens and nursery. The design will focus on flora indigenous to Alabama, will be completely organic and will also include an orchard to benefit the surrounding community.

The project was awarded more than $7,000 from the newly formed UM Green Fund, and $10,000 from the Student Government Association. Much-needed restroom facilities have also been made possible through the support of UM President Dr. John W. Stewart III.

The JWSO is free and open to the public during scheduled meetings of the Montevallo Astronomical Society and UM Astronomy Club. Please consult the calendar at for meeting dates for the next several months, and more information.

Brandy Holt is a member of the University of Montevallo Environmental Club, and wrote the column on behalf of the club.