Trends in Green

Maximizing Value Through LEED Certification

In 2015, Fanning Howey clients reached an amazing milestone: 50 LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified K-12 schools. Each school district had a different reason for participating in the green building certification program. For some, participation was required by state funding sources or state law. For others, the choice of LEED certification was driven by environmental stewardship and a wish for lower operating costs. But the lessons learned from these projects have applications for all school districts pursuing LEED certification, whatever the reason.

Lesson #1: Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing

During the design of a new middle school in the Midwest, our team informed the owner that the building was one or two credits away from reaching LEED Platinum certification. Their response was to ask, “What will those extra credits do for our students?” In the context of this specific project, the answer was, “Not much.” The owner’s goals for 21st-century learning environments and energy efficiency had already been reached. The extra credits would have increased the project cost without giving the owner additional educational value. After careful discussion, the decision was made to stay with Gold certification.

This example highlights an important point to consider with LEED certification. The LEED program is a tool. It should further the owner’s goals, not become the goal itself. There are many LEED credits that naturally tie into the issues facing today’s educational communities. The largest LEED credit, given for optimizing energy performance, has a direct impact on future operating costs. LEED credits for daylighting and views, indoor air quality and acoustics are based on factors that are proven to impact student performance in a positive way. These credits become natural areas of focus when planning and designing a new or renovated school.

Other credits must be carefully evaluated based on their cost and associated value. For example, there is a required credit for acoustical performance in the learning environment. Additional credits are available for enhanced acoustical control. But the benefit to a school is almost nonexistent. There is no evidence that reducing noise beyond the level of the required LEED credit will result in better academic performance. There is, however, a significant increase in cost.

Lesson #2: Think Outside the Box

LEED deals with all aspects of a school campus, inside and out. Many of the LEED site credits deliver exceptional value over the long term. Master planning of a school site is especially important to make sure that future additions are incorporated in a seamless and cost-effective manner.

Paving and roof systems are also important and often-overlooked considerations. Using light-colored concrete paving instead of asphalt will reduce the amount of heat trapped by dark surface materials (known as the heat island effect). In the same way, white roofs reflect a greater percentage of the sun’s energy, resulting in less heat gain within the building. Planted roofs achieve the same result and also act as a teaching tool for science and biology classes.

Lesson #3: Begin With the End in Mind

The process of maximizing value through the LEED program begins earlier than you think. For example, a poorly chosen site can lead to improper building orientation, which will result in increased energy use. For this reason, it is important to discuss LEED with your design team as early as possible.

An eco-charrette, held within the first month of the project, is a great way to discuss project goals and their LEED impacts. These discussions typically range from the dollars and cents of mechanical systems to the educational impacts of daylighting and views. The value of the eco-charrette is that it provides designers with a strong foundation for making expert recommendations and aligns LEED strategies with specific district goals.

The LEED certification program continues to change, and LEED for Schools has undergone multiple iterations. Yet the challenge to owners and their design teams remains the same: We must leverage LEED strategies to make the greatest positive impact on students, teachers and communities.

This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Authors

Rodney Wiford, AIA, REFP, LEED-AP BD+C, is an architect and project manager for Fanning Howey, a national leader in K-12 school planning and design.

Cliff Brady, PE, LEED AP, is a mechanical engineer with Fanning Howey.

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