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Students Protest Lack of LEED in Design for CT Campus Building

There’s a bit of a LEED-driven controversy that’s currently playing out at the Norwalk Community College in Connecticut. Students are alleging that the design by Upper West Side-based Mitchell-Giurgola Architects for a new $40 million, 3-story laboratory building “isn’t green enough.” Last year, architecture professor John Sneider’s Environmental Systems class critiqued the 55,000-square-foot project, with students suggesting a building smaller in scale and the installation of a geothermal system. They contacted university officials last year and say they’ve been given the runaround; the school has spent $3 million on the design to date and finalized drawings for bidding back in January. Still, students circulated a petition and met yesterday with the design team, who explained the project’s sustainable features notwithstanding its lack of LEED registration with USGBC.

The architects emphasized that the building will have extensive insulation, low-e windows with sunscreens, and incorporate recycled-content materials and perhaps a low-flow plumbing system. The team has not performed a full analysis, but “think” that the project would be close to a LEED Certified level. College president David Levinson said that he attempted to secure funding for a LEED application at the start of the project in 2004 but was unable to because of budget conditions. “We really have designed something that is sustainable,” he told the Stamford Advocate. “I feel convinced that we have done the best we have under the current constraints.” The university hopes to break ground in the fall and have the facility open by 2010.

What’s most interesting to me is how those quoted as pushing for the project to pursue a LEED rating (see links below) are immediately correlating LEED itself with energy efficiency; it’s possible to earn the designation with a design aiming for no better than Energy Star 67. (Recall that the Energy Star designation itself goes to buildings that achieve a minimum of 75). While the students make the good point that Connecticut now requires large publicly-funded buildings to earn a LEED Silver rating (this particular project was approved before that legislation took effect), they should also review other recent green building legislation in other jurisdictions (Dallas, Boston) that introduces the concept of “LEED Certifiable.” The tension between time, money, and sustainability is a constant battle that we see playing out in the green/LEED context, and the NCC lab project could be a good paradigm for how stakeholders might arrive at some common ground in trying to juggle those competing interests.

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2 Responses to Students Protest Lack of LEED in Design for CT Campus Building

  1. Real Life LEED May 30, 2008 at 10:38 am #

    Great post… I strongly disagree with the concept of requiring “LEED Certifiable” design and construction. If you’re going to have to show that a project “could” be LEED certified, you’re pretty much doing all of the documentation anyway. In my experience, that’s most of the expense of getting the certification anyway.

    Registration and certification fees paid to the USGBC for this building for instance would only amount to $2,375 anyway (55,000 sf building assuming USGBC member company paying fees). The larger fees by far would be for the additional services charged by the architect, engineers, etc… Admittedly, those charges can add up to 6 figures, but a $40,000,000 project can’t work that out???

  2. Stephen Del Percio May 30, 2008 at 3:26 pm #

    Thanks for your comment. I’m guessing we’re not getting the entire story here, but where public money is involved even a slight premium from a LEED application might be problematic. We’ll have to see if anything comes out of this in the next few weeks.

    With respect to “LEED Certifiable” in the legal context, I disagree. Many of the legal issues associated with formal third-party certification that is incorporated by reference or included in local legislation do not exist if a formal application to USGBC, GBI, etc. is not required. Those issues, of course, may still create risk that must be managed by the project team, but in general it seems more palatable if the municipality retains control over its local building code and remains responsible for evaluating applications.

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