The cloud has been lifted.
At Kansas University, anyway, it has. A fleet of 28 cleaner-burning buses is running on campus, replacing the notorious, smoke-belching buses that the KU on Wheels transit system has been using for decades.
"I don't think there is a person on campus who hasn't said something about how they can't breathe when the buses go by," said May Davis, transportation coordinator for the KU on Wheels program. "Everybody knows that the black smoke wasn't good for the environment."
The buses - which are still about a dozen years old but are cleaner-burning than the previous buses - may be the most visible sign of new efforts to make the KU campus a more green-friendly place.
They certainly were one of the more expensive projects. KU students approved a new $20 per-semester fee to pay for the new buses.
"I would definitely say that people are wanting to drive less," Davis said.
The bus project, though, isn't the only sign that KU is pushing for a more environmentally friendly campus. In addition to the $20 bus fee, students also approved a $1.50 per semester fee to create a Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund. The fee will generate about $70,000 a year to improve energy efficiency of campus buildings and to explore the use of renewable energy sources on campus.
"I was really pleased that we passed that," Davis said of the measure, which won a 90 percent approval rate. "We're concerned about our money, but we are willing to spend it toward things that will last forever."
Jeff Severin, director of KU's Center for Sustainability, said he also was pleased but not surprised by the students' willingness to back environmental initiatives. He said it is a growing trend on university campuses to give more thought to environmental issues.
Severin's new job is an example of that. KU opened its Center for Sustainability in February. Severin said the mission of the center is to promote environmentally friendly practices both on campus and in the community. He also said the center is working to help attract new research opportunities for KU faculty studying sustainability topics.
He also said the center would be able to work with students and university leaders on how to best spend the money in the newly created Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund. For example, he said the center would help examine what type of solar energy applications might be available on campus, or whether small-scale wind generation is possible on Mount Oread.
The center already has worked with students in a KU environmental studies class on research projects. One possibility that has grown out of that effort is the idea of the KU dining services department purchasing more of its produce from local growers, or for KU leaders to build greenhouses for growing some of its own produce.
More traditional programs also are expanding. Celeste Hoins, environmental services manager at KU, said the campus recycling program is growing. The university's Facilities Operations Department this spring installed a new recycling baler. The new baler will allow the university to collect and sell more recycled material, which should provide for greater revenue to support recycling programs.
Hoins, who began her position in June, said she's working to restart the campus surplus furniture program. That program creates a system where used office furniture from one KU department can be used by another KU department. That saves the university money and helps prevent furniture from filling landfills, Hoins said.
Her department also is working to begin a new deskside office paper recycling program. Hoins will be overseeing a pilot project to place small recycling containers at each office desk in one KU building. The small containers - about the size of a standard trash can - are meant to provide a convenient way for workers to recycle without leaving their desks.
"We feel like it is really important to get people into the habit of thinking environmentally friendly," Hoins said. "That's really what we try to do with all our programs. We try to build green habits."