Digging Deeper: University in Indiana Goes Green with David Letterman and Park Buildings

The Question

Recently, Ball State University was recognized as one of the nation’s top green universities.  Two buildings were referred to as “soon-to-be-LEED certified.”  What does LEED refer to?  The article did not explain.  By the way, the two buildings are the David Letterman Communication and Media Building and Park Hall.  They are the first university buildings to pursue the certification in the state of Indiana. 

The Explanation
The U.S. Green Building Council is a non-profit coalition of more than 12,000 organizations representing architects, engineers, real estate developers, general contractors, and other members of the building industry.  To promote environmentally responsible construction, the council created a rating system called LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  Introduced in 2000, this voluntary certification process sets standards for the design, building, and operation of high-performance green buildings in terms of sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovative design.

Many different kinds of buildings including homes, schools, commercial buildings and retail shops can gain LEED certification.  Depending upon adherence to LEED standards, buildings can achieve one of four designations: Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. 

Serious thought goes into every step of the process, from where the building is located on the lot, to choosing the right materials, fixtures, lighting and landscaping. Applicants face a rigorous process to win LEED certification. 

LEED buildings are pleasant places to live and work.  Who doesn’t like thoughtful architecture and natural lighting and flooring?  Many studies have found that fresh air and good lighting can actually improve the health and productivity of workers and tenants. 

The following report, prepared for the State of California Sustainable Building Task Force in 2003, provides information on the costs and benefits -- financial and beyond --  of green buildings. http://www.usgbc.org/docs/news/news477.pdf

Life-Cycle Analysis

While it takes about the same amount of energy to construct a LEED-certified building as a conventional one, the real energy savings become apparent later.  For example, Ball State University’s new $32 million Park Hall houses more than 500 students and takes up 164,000 square feet. It uses 35 percent less energy than a typical building of its size due to its optimal heating and air conditioning systems, lighting and building materials. Low-flow water fixtures alone are responsible for a 29 percent reduction in water use, saving 1.3 million gallons annually.  Park Hall was constructed using recycled products, regional materials, and construction waste diverted from landfills.  The use of volatile organic compounds -- the nasty chemicals often found in adhesives, paints and other building materials – was limited.

According to Ball State, these measures have reduced the building’s overall carbon production by 740 tons each year, compared to a standard building.  That’s roughly the same amount of carbon that would emitted by 185 cars, each driving 12,000 miles over the course of one year.

The other LEED-certified building on Ball State’s campus is the just-completed $21 million David Letterman Communication and Media Building, which honors Ball State’s most famous alum.  It also boasts many green qualities, including bamboo flooring, a renewable material.  (Bamboo plants reach maturity at just six years; it takes oak trees 60 years.)  During construction, 85 percent of scrap and waste material were recycled.

The Costs

LEED buildings have been criticized for being expensive. Although the up-front costs may be slightly higher than traditional construction, owners and occupants end up saving a significant amount of money over the life of the structure.

The LEED certification process can be costly and time-intensive for applicants. They must meet the ambitious set of goals established by the U.S. Green Building Council, and depending on the scope of a project, one or more staffers may be needed to document each step.  For some organizations, this is too demanding.

The report (also referenced earlier) provides information on the costs and benefits green buildings. http://www.usgbc.org/docs/news/news477.pdf


LEED certification is voluntary and incentive-based; essentially, it’s all carrot and no stick.  The U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit organization, establishes the guidelines; they are not enforced by the government. 

There are, however, a number of local, state and federal tax credits available --  for example, those promoting renewable energy – to developers of LEED buildings, which can help offset costs.

For More Information
The U.S. Green Building Council has a comprehensive Web site that lays out all aspects of LEED certification at: http://www.usgbc.org/

For more on Ball State’s Letterman Building:

For more on Ball State’s Park Hall

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