- By Paul Hoffman
- April 1st, 2008
Healthier facilities and significant, on-going cost savings are just two of the benefits that the recipients of an environmentally-friendly facility can enjoy. Schools join healthcare facilities, retail establishments, and government buildings as central fixtures in each and every community. All serve as community hubs due to the ongoing daily demand for their services. That’s why it is so important for these facilities to not only be attractive, healthy, and cost-sensitive, but able to be a model of care and concern for our environment.
Educational facilities are one of the greatest venues for applying sustainable design and construction principles. With rising building and energy costs, demands to improve test scores and greater competition for both students and staff, the benefits of building green schools are numerous. Eagle River and its neighboring communities in Wisconsin recently celebrated the opening of a first-of-its-kind building that will reap such benefits for decades to come. Visionary thinking by the school board and administration of Northland Pines School District led to the now legendary Northland Pines High School (NPHS).
NPHS is the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified school in Wisconsin and the highest-rated gold certified public high school in the United States. This environmental designation – awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council (www.usgbc.org) – certifies that the school meets specific and stringent standards for energy and water use, clean indoor air, recycling of building materials, and other significant factors. By incorporating a vast array of sustainable principles, the school provides a positive impact on the Northwoods region of the Badger State. In addition to other awards, NPHS was recognized in September of 2007 with a Sustainability & Energy Efficiency Leadership Award from the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance at the 2007 Greening the Heartland Conference.
Achieving the Vision Through an Integrated Process
The knowledge gained and the integrated process for design and construction services which was used in the Northland Pines project is fully transferable to any region of the country. The Northland Pines School District had a desire to strive for lofty environmental standards that were met at a square-foot cost well below industry averages. In fact, the school was delivered for 23 percent below the national median cost of $150 per sq. ft. for high schools built in 2006. We started working with the administration and school board members very early on, and we had the end goal in mind from our first interaction. The “end goal” in this case was to earn silver certification and become the first LEED certified K-12 school of any kind in the state. That objective was achieved and then moved one step higher to gold certification, the second highest of four levels awarded by the USGBC. “Our vision was to create a building that set a positive example of responsible sustainable design and construction solutions that provided a tangible learning tool to enhance our curriculum,“ says Northland Pines District Administrator Mike Richie. This was all made possible because of the process that was used from beginning to end… and beyond.
This process, which fully integrates planning, design, and construction, creates the win-win situation where energy efficiency is achieved at a prudent cost. In the late 1990s, the team at Hoffman, LLC took our Total Project Management (TPM) philosophy to a new level. We transformed our corporate philosophy into a planning, design, and construction process that capitalizes upon green principles. Total Project Management: Vision Taken to the Power of Green (TPMg) is a process that integrates cost-effective and efficient building solutions that respect the environment and enhance a building’s quality and value. Hoffman has employed energy-saving technology and environmental design and construction concepts since 1999 — when LEED certification was still in its formative stages.
Sustainability Impacts Students and Staff
With the varied and heavy demands on school administrators today, a consciousness and attentiveness to the changing attitudes of the next generation is critical. According to the 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study, a national survey released in late October of that year, a strong case is made that Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) will reward those organizations that are environmentally responsible. The research shows that 83 percent of Millenials will place more trust in organizations that are socially and environmentally responsible.
Northland Pines has seen the impact in not only their students, but in staff as well. “It exceeded our expectations, because all along our goal was a silver certification,” Richie said. “It’s nice to be a front-runner when it comes to having an environmental school.” Richie goes on to share that morale has improved for both staff and students. According to a poll conducted by Mortgage Lenders Network USA, 94 percent of Americans prefer to work in a setting that is designed to be energy efficient and ecologically sound. Employee recruiting, retention, and productivity are elements that school administrators consistently communicate as critical factors. According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average worker spends nearly 90 percent of his/her time indoors and that building-related illnesses cost organizations tens of billions of dollars every year. Improvements in air quality, lighting, and other high performance (green) features have been shown to increase productivity and reduce absenteeism. As well, when teachers and other staff are considering their employment options, features like natural light and a comfortable, well-designed work environment are variables that are likely to give green schools the upper hand.
Green Construction’s Ongoing Impact
While everyone enjoys the attributes of a green facility, its highest value is in both the way it nurtures the natural environment and the positive impact it can have on the bottom line. NPHS is included in Hoffman’s energy modeling pool of over 4,000,000 sq. ft. of sustainable buildings. This monitoring allows Hoffman to benchmark the school’s performance. When NPHS opened its doors in the summer of 2006, we began collecting data. If we discover system inefficiencies, we are able to make proactive assessments and suggest adjustments. Using energy modeling, it is perfectly reasonable to expect annual energy savings of $40,000 to $60,000 on 100,000 sq. ft. of space. The use of efficiently-designed mechanical and lighting systems, along with higher insulation values, provide energy savings of 40 percent or more over conventional construction.
But, LEED certification goes well beyond energy savings. The impact of sustainable practices influences the environment in other ways as well. An impressive 83 percent of all building wastes at Northland Pines were recycled, including those from demolition of the original high school structure it replaced. Thanks to smart scheduling, a crew of Amish workmen was able to reclaim large laminated beams before the old high school was raised and remove and remill the existing wood flooring. Brick, mortar, and concrete from the previous high school building was also reclaimed and used in the roadbed and under parking lots.
Northland Pines High School also incorporates other sustainable features:
• Daylight harvesting — High ceilings and strategic placement of gray low-E windows bring daylight into classrooms without creating glare or heat gains and losses.
• Sustainable site design — Two large detention basins retain storm water on site that is recycled to provide irrigation. Landscaping is also environmentally-friendly. It incorporates native species that are lower maintenance than other plantings and reduce watering and maintenance costs. The site also offers a priority parking system that encourages car-pooling or bicycling.
• High indoor air quality — Low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) products were specified for carpeting, adhesives, and paints. In addition, carbon dioxide levels are constantly monitored.
• Material selection — More than half (by cost) of the materials used in the construction of NPHS were manufactured within 500 miles of the construction site, reducing fuel consumption and emissions associated with transporting them. Furthermore, 25 percent of the materials were derived from recycled products.
When planning your next building project, remember that there’s more value to sustainable and conscientious design than mere efficiency. While the environmental impact is low at Northland Pines, the impact on the community is very high. “Everyone walks into that building and it’s just: ‘Wow,’” says Tom Christensen, School Board President. As you define your next renovation or construction project, consider what your building will be saying to your students, your teachers, and your community. Let your green project help you reduce expenses, provide a better working environment for your teachers and staff, improve the learning atmosphere for your students, and be a role model for your community.
Paul Hoffman is president of Hoffman LLC, a Wisconsin-based planning, architecture, and construction management firm established in 1892. To learn more about sustainable planning, design and construction, contact him at email@example.com.