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.