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Published April 04, 2011, 10:46 AM

ARCHITECTURE - LEED design facility construction increasing

Businesses are always looking at the bottom line and when constructing a new building if there is a higher upfront cost for a LEED certified facility, many would balk at that. Now, things are changing.

By: Alan Van Ormer, Prairie Business Magazine

Ganapathy Mahalingam, Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at North Dakota State University, says the construction of LEED certified buildings is definitely increasing. “They are convinced there will be savings,” he says.

Leap Chear, LEED Architect for EAPC Architects Engineers, adds that it is estimated that one in 10 clients when they come in to talk to architects bring up LEED certification or LEED criteria. Chear, who is also the current treasurer of the North Dakota Chapter of the United States Green Building Council, states that on a global scale, green buildings are gaining ground.

“In North Dakota, we are starting to see more projects that are going this route,” he explains. “A lot come from the owners who are being more educated and more aware of different building methods and materials. The main savings for owners who are operating facilities are reduced energy consumption, water efficient fixtures, energy efficient light fixtures, low VOC materials, and that feel-good feeling that comes from being good stewards of our planet.”

A LEED certified building is better designed to be responsive to the environment by using natural materials and natural resources pertaining to different criteria that includes Sustainable Sites, Water Usage Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Material Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation and Design Process, and Regional Priority Credits. There are also four different certifications – LEED certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold, and LEED Platinum. Credit points are attributed to the different levels: Certified (40-49), Silver (50-59), Gold (60-79), and Platinum (80+).

The average increase in cost for LEED certified buildings is $2.50 per square foot. However, Mahalingam adds that the savings will wind up at $6.50 per square foot. Mahalingam says the owners will see immediate savings, but those savings also depend on size of building, type of building, and the systems incorporated in the building.

He also states that it is important to remember that LEED certification is saying that the architects have used sound design practices when designing the building. “What has changed is the accountability for performance for the buildings beyond cost, construction, and safety,” he explains.

In North Dakota, Renaissance Hall, the facility in which Mahalingam is located, is the first LEED certified facility designed by Michael J. Burns, an architect in Moorhead, MN. There are at least three LEED certified projects in North Dakota with at least four or more projects to be newly certified next year.

Henry Carlson Company is a general contractor based out of Sioux Falls, SD that does work in the following market segments: health care, commercial, education, cultural, retail, and industrial. There is also an office in Aberdeen, SD, and on April 1, the company opened an office in Fargo, ND.

Meredith Larson, who is LEED accredited, has seen an increase in LEED facilities being constructed in South Dakota. “The projects we have been involved with so far are projects where the owners think this is a wise investment,” he says.

These projects include Heartland Consumers Power District in Madison, SD and the Rural Learning Center in Howard, SD. “Private owners want to do LEED buildings. They have done their homework and they have determined this is a good route for them to go,” Larson explains. “In the case of Heartland, they wanted to provide an example to their customers.”

In addition, the state of South Dakota passed legislation a couple of years ago requiring all new state developments to be LEED Silver. One project that Henry Carlson worked on is the Wellness Center at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, SD.

“On the public side, there is a consciousness at the state – particularly in the Office of State Engineer – want to improve the quality of their buildings in terms of energy consumption and design,” Larson states.

Sean Irvin has been a Principal and an architect with TSP in Sioux Falls for 24 years. In the company’s eight locations across the upper Midwest, Irvin states that the company has had a long tradition of sustainable design that started before the latest trends.

TSP has worked on the Honey Creek Resort in Iowa, which is one of the first hotels in the region to attain LEED rating, as well as a school in Minneapolis and multi-use office in Rochester, MN. Both attained LEED Silver.

“More clients than ever have an active interest in sustainability and want to at least take sensible advantage of the long-term cost savings it can provide,” Ervin states. “When people see the cost of the LEED documentation process, it may seem daunting, but it is a proven process that most people have heard of and shows a commitment to the concepts that LEED promotes.”

Ervin adds that the costs for the facility are worth it down the road when they save significant energy dollars over the life expectancy of the building, improve user comfort of the occupants of the building, and the sense that an owner has taken a step beyond just recycling in order to minimize their carbon footprint.

“The most measurable savings will be in energy savings over the years of owning the building,” Ervin explains. “This is coupled with an extra level of operationalizing the mechanical and other systems of the building, “he says. “This commissioning process verifies that the goals of the facility are being met and works to make all of the systems work in concert to achieve those goals. Of course, there are a number of less measurable goals, but businesses still notice the difference in their employees and other users of their facility as well.”

Besides generating a payback, there are several reasons why LEED experts feel the higher upfront costs are worth it in the long haul. These include stewardship issues, as well as water and energy conservation. A lot of the credits are related to heating, lighting, cooling, and air quality. In addition, companies are finding and reusing materials.

For example, Heartland Consumers Power District found old bleacher seatings and recycled them into a wood ceiling. Another example, in Howard, materials from the former American Legion building and gymnasium were salvaged for reuse in the project.

Also, the upfront costs depend on the type of projects, as well as the certification level that businesses are looking at. “There have been studies that as little as three to five percent upfront costs may just be looking at the certification level,” Chear says.

Chear believes that a big issue is that energy consumption is huge. “Owners are making more of a demand upfront in the design stage,” he explains. “More prominent projects across the United States extensive studies seeing that operating costs is substantial savings. Upfront costs pay for that in 3-4 years depending on the size of the project and implemented systems.”

Alan Van Ormer - avanormer@prairiebizmag.com PB