The Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center is buzzing — literally. The first urban beekeeping garden in the city was set up on the convention center’s balcony last week.
Beekeeping was previously only allowed in residential areas within the city, which had to amend its laws for the convention center project. The beekeeping area is part of an effort to help the center reach Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.
There are four buildings in the city with LEED certifications, and Coliseum & Convention Center management said they hope the beekeeping garden will help them become the fifth.
Assistant Director Jim Smith said it’s also a sustainability effort the public can see.
“There’s a lot of things happening behind the scenes, like recycling and energy management, the way we handle food waste, but this gives us a platform to show the general public how we participate in the sustainability process,” Smith said.
The garden has been in the works since December. Coliseum & Convention Center leaders learned about Sugar Bottom Farm, a honey bee farm in Clay County, during a small-farms conference the center was hosting in February. This past week, Sugar Bottom Farm staff brought the bees to the convention center and taught the staff about beekeeping.
Now, there are three hives that look like house structures at the convention center. In about a year, bees will begin producing honey inside of the hives in honeycombs made of fiber plastic.
Cold weather won’t stop the honey production. In the winter, an acrylic glass cover will be put on the balcony to protect the bees from the wind, Smith said. Over the course of a year, the three hives — which will contain about 50,000 bees each — will produce between 50 to 100 pounds of honey apiece.
The honey will be used in the Coliseum & Convention Center’s kitchen, Executive Chef Todd Jones said. Besides the beehives, there also are flowers, and herbs such as parsley and peppermint, in the garden.
The compost the herbs are planted in is made in-house. About 80 percent of the food waste from the kitchen is made into compost, Jones said. This is made possible by a pulper and dehydrator located in the facility’s kitchen.
All the food and biodegradable materials are put into the pulper and crushed. That material is then moved to the dehydrator, where all the liquid is taken out, leaving something that looks similar to coffee grounds. Two hundred pounds of waste can be reduced down to about 120 pounds of compost, Smith said.
As of now, the compost is being used in the beekeeping area and the chef’s personal garden. The center is still looking for others in the community who would be interested in using it.
The pulper cost about $71,000 and the dehydrator was an added-on cost. However, it was one of the more affordable options, Executive Director John Robertson said. A traditional dumpster wouldn’t work, because of the smell, Robertson said; a refrigerated dumpster would cost $100,000 to rent.
In addition to the cost savings, without the dumpster, the convention center also is sending less food to the landfill.
Other measures taken to obtain LEED certification include implementing a more efficient air-conditioning system and making significant reductions in electric utilities, along with putting much of the building on low-water requirements, Robertson said.
There are four levels of certification with LEED: certified, silver, gold and platinum. The convention center is looking to reach silver certification.
It would be difficult to achieve the top levels, because part of the building was built in 1958, with old construction materials, Robertson said. The theater, exhibit hall, executive offices and second-floor meeting hall are all a part of the 1958 construction.
“LEED silver is a pretty high accolade for any building,” Smith said, “and we’re confident we’ll have the points to get it.”
Once the Coliseum & Convention Center’s application process is complete, it could be months before certification is obtained, Robertson said.
Besides being cost-efficient, LEED certification and sustainability initiatives are something clients are looking for, Robertson said. Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed.
“When you’re talking to meeting planners, they represent an association, and they want to hold members to high standards,” Bailey said. “Sustainability efforts not only mean a reduced cost of operations, but it’s also about being a good citizen.”