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New high school to follow LEED requirements

There's been much debate recently in newspapers across the country regarding the value of obtaining the United States Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Some argue it is a waste of money to pay USGBC to review plans and documents to determine if a building that their inspectors will never actually see, meets criteria for being "green."

Others feel LEED certification is a responsible step in the right direction to hold new construction to higher standards of building facilities with the environment in mind.

After careful consideration, the New Richmond School District decided to comply with the requirements of USGBC's LEED certification program for the new high school.

This process involves submitting hundreds of pages electronically to USGBC to document that the new high school has been constructed to adhere with strict environmentally-friendly standards.

USGBC bases their certification decisions on documents received from the construction, design or architectural firms working on each project.

According to Rachel Gutter, senior manager of USGBC's Education Sector, the typical school (new construction or major renovation) costs approximately $5,500 to certify. This includes the $450 registration fee for members or the $650 registration fee for non-members.

Gutter said the certification cost is between three and four cents per square foot of the school with a maximum cost of $22,500.

New Richmond's future high school will cost $10,319 to certify, according to Dan Moll, partner at ATS&R.

The School District's architects, Armstrong, Torseth, Skold and Rydeen Inc. (ATS&R) have taken on the brunt of documenting the building procedures at a considerable cost of time and money to their firm, Moll said.

Each eco-friendly or energy saving inclusion in the building must be written up on a computer template and sent to USGBC for review. ATS&R staff are completing these templates.

Of the $10,319 cost, the New Richmond School Board has tentatively agreed to pitch in between $8,000 and $10,000 for LEED certification.

According to New Richmond School District Administrator Morrie Veilleux, the financial commitment for LEED certification from the Board is money that was already in the referendum budget to build the high school.

"The money pledged for LEED certification was part of the overall budgeting of the high school project," Veilleux said. "We had not discussed LEED in depth before the referendum, but we did say we would pursue it if it didn't significantly impact the high school budget."

Veilleux said the School Board reviewed the figures and the costs for LEED certification ended up being between 2 and 4 percent of the total high school budget.

"Engineers were already looking at many ways to save energy and build a school that is sustainable for the future," Veilleux said.

The 2 to 4 percent it costs to pursue certification is included in those types of building decisions, according to Veilleux.

"We may spend a little more to have a better HVAC system, for example, but we didn't do it to be LEED certified," Veilleux explained, "we did it just to be 'green' and future sustainable."

"We have the most efficient HVAC system money can buy at this time," Veilleux said. "It's not an extra cost because we came in under budget. We would've still gone with the same system to be cost efficient down the road."

Who benefits?

There are numerous benefits to be gained from building "green," but the LEED certification of "greeness" doesn't necessarily add tangible benefits for the School District.

More likely it is a feather in ATS&R's cap when bidding future projects. There are only a few high schools in the nation that currently possess the LEED certification. It is recognized as a status symbol in the world of construction.

But a nice plaque and the prestige of being among the few elite schools in the nation to have LEED certification are not the only recognizable benefits to jumping through USGBC's rigorous hoops.

With or without the plaque and notoriety, a school built by these standards will assure that the facility is built as designed and is operating as intended, according to Gutter.

Not only are "green" schools better for the environment, said Gutter, but studies show they also "improve test scores, attendance and the health of students and staff."

"It's common sense that if a school has lots of daylight and views and good acoustics, it makes for a better learning environment," Gutter said. "The indoor air quality also improves the health of those in the building."

According to ATS&R's Moll, energy savings and environmental benefits are also considerations when adhering to USGBC standards for building.

"The building process is more environmentally sound. Less toxic materials are used," Moll said. "The engineers, designers and construction crews are working together to do things that are more Earth friendly, such as diverting construction site waste from landfills. In fact, 60 to 70 percent of the steel being used in the New Richmond high school project comes from recycled scrap metal."

For Veilleux the better health and well-being of the students and staff is the first and foremost benefit of going "green."

Second, the energy savings to the District and the overall benefits to the environment have made him a believer.

There are also rebates the School District stands to receive because of the types of electrical fixtures and boilers the School District chose.

To Veilleux, the LEED certification is just a "paperwork trail" and the District would have done things the same way with or without the certification.

But for the School District, having the LEED certification confirms that the District's investments in an environmentally sound building will bring benefits to the area for a long time to come, said Veilleux.