It’s been a wild ride recently for the green building legal community; in the past week we’ve witnessed the country’s first reported green condominium litigation and another challenge in federal court to a state-level green building program. Now (over the weekend), the Northland Pines appellants have announced that they dispute USGBC’s denial of their challenge to the LEED Gold certification of the Northland Pines High School, publicly released the documents on which USGBC’s decision was based, and are calling on the green building industry to review the materials and draw their own conclusions about the merits of USGBC’s decision.
After a preliminary review over the past few days of the materials which the appellants sent to me (and many others across the industry), what strikes me as most interesting is the opening paragraph to the Executive Summary prepared by Taylor Engineering, one of the independent consultants which USGBC engaged to evaluate the challenge, in response to the appellants’ allegations. Taylor states that “there were several violations of Standard 62.1 and Standard 90.1 requirements in the design as originally documented. As such, the original design did not meet IEQ Prerequisite 1 and EA Prerequisite 2 of LEED NC version 2.1.”
Taylor also notes that revisions were made to the school’s energy model on December 10, 2009 – well after the energy models on which the disputed prerequisites were submitted to USGBC for consideration. As the appellants point out in their response to Taylor, “the independent consultant indicates that the original model at the time of the USGBC application . . . is not correct. Making revisions to the energy model 4.5 years after the design should not and cannot be the basis for compliance with this prerequisite.”
These details – though technical – require that the green building industry – including policymakers – review the challenge and supporting documents released by the appellants with scrutiny. However, if the project did, in fact, fail to satisfy these prerequisites, but was certified anyway, and the USGBC’s decision essentially stands behind ex post facto revisions to the energy model, the appellants’ contentions throughout the challenge and response documents that the LEED certification process itself is flawed become all the more compelling.
I am sure that there will be much more to say about all of these materials moving forward but, to get you started with your review, here’s the public statement which the appellants prepared as an introduction to the package of documents which they have released for review and comment:
Appellants’ Statement – June 5, 2010
What is all the ruckus about Northland Pines?
In 2004, the voters of Vilas County, Wisconsin voted to approve the sale of $28,535,000 worth of bonds to finance a new high school for the Northland Pines District.
The appellants in this case all served on the Building Committee for the new school and each brought specific talents and experience in the design and construction of large buildings. Each was dedicated to the proposition of creating the most efficient structure possible.
The design team and school board discouraged any outside input and set forth to design and construct the school as they saw fit. As the design developed, the appellants questioned whether the facility would indeed meet the prerequisites for LEED Certification and were told that it would despite what appeared to be glaring shortfalls with respect to those requiremetns. The appellants retained the service of two highly regarded consulting engineers to review the plans. Both of them determined that the facility as deisgned would not qualify for LEED Certification.
In December 2008, the appellants filed an appeal with the USGBC challenging the award of the Gold Certification given to Northland Pines. Some 16 months later, the appellants were notified that the USGBC had looked into the matter and found everything to be fine. They based this on reports from two or more consulting engineers who said that the building did not meet the prerequisites but concluded that “pretty close” is close enough. When the appellants’ engineers asked for the backup data to the USGBC reports, they were told that they were pretty busy and would address that request when they have time. Time has passed and the requested materials have not been forthcoming. Why?
On behalf of the taxpayers of Vilas County who would like to know with certainty whether they got what they paid for or not, we ask the engineering community to look at this file and tell us, did we miss something here? How can it be all right to certify a building that doesn’t fully comply with the rules set forth by the body that is doing the certifications?
We would love to hear what you think. We are only in search of the truth which ultimately will be what is best for Northland Pines.
(An interesting procedural sidenote is whether the appellants could have appealed USGBC’s denial of their challenge rather than distributing the complaint . Under the Certification Challenge Policy, GBCI’s Board of Directors serves as the appeals body, and the appeal must be requested within twenty-five (25) business days of the underlying decision (meaning the appellants would have had until June 2 to file their request based on an April 27 decision from USGBC). However, at least with respect to this challenge, you will recall that USGBC General Counsel Susan Dorn explained in a email message that the Northland Pines proceeding was reviewed by USGBC as a legacy project under the rules which applied when USGBC – and not GBCI – was handling LEED certifications, and that future challenges would be reviewed under the GBCI policy.)
In any event, the full set of documents is available from Larry Spielvogel (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Mark Lentz (email@example.com) upon request and includes an original copy of the appeal which was submitted to USGBC in December of 2008, as well as the appellants’ reactions to each of the conclusions as reached by USGBC’s consultants and other supporting documentation.
A copy of the Executive Summary of the appellants’ response to the denial of their challenge (which was prepared by Spielvogel and Lentz) is available for download here.