Making an Impact

Cost often is a concern for those considering a sustainable design for their educational facility. Green facilities may be more expensive than less environmentally conscious building designs, but the total ownership costs of sustainable facilities, when properly designed, are significantly less than their non-green counterparts.

This cost savings can't be realized simply by adding green features or products to the design. It takes an integrated design strategy that incorporates building processes, systems and materials. It is necessary early in the planning stages to select an experienced design team that can provide advice and information on the costs and benefits of various green strategies.

Using an integrated approach in the design, renovation and construction of educational facilities has benefits beyond saving money. It also helps deliver a more productive and rewarding educational experience for students and staff.

Minimizing operating costs

Statistics show that green buildings that use the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system cost about 2 to 4 percent more to build, but depending on the level of LEED certification, can save as much as $50 to $75 per square foot over a 20-year period. For example, a 100,000-square-foot building can return a savings of between $5 million to $7.5 million in operating costs over 20 years.

In order to minimize operating costs, administrators should consider several factors during the design and construction phases. Early in the design phase, the design team should perform energy modeling. Architects and engineers should work together to evaluate different scenarios and determine the most efficient approach to the entire building design. Consider window types, insulation values, roof colors, lighting systems and mechanical systems.

School planners should discuss building commissioning. This calls for a third party to review the design intent of the architecture and engineering team, and verify that the systems are installed and operating properly, which will ensure maximum efficiency of all systems.

By employing building commissioning, schools and universities have a systematic way to ensure that building systems perform as intended. Building commissioning can help optimize a building's energy-efficient design features, ensure proper indoor air quality, enhance functions of systems, and improve overall operation and maintenance. Projects that are LEED-registered include building commissioning as a step in the certification process.

Sustainability doesn't end with design and construction. Once construction is complete, the design team, along with the commissioning agent, should review the entire design to establish lessons that can be learned and applied to future projects.

A return on investment

In projects that use sustainable design, the design team evaluates building elements, materials and systems as an integrated part of the entire building rather than solely on the basis of its own merit and cost. The team analyzes the anticipated return on investment with regard to how a design decision is going to affect the facilities and maintenance budgets in the future.

Although specific materials or systems within a facility may have higher first-costs, these frequently can be balanced by lowering the cost of other components of the design. Some potential solutions do not incur additional upfront costs, and factoring in long-term maintenance costs can make a difference as well.

For example, vinyl-composition tile has a relatively low upfront cost but higher long-term maintenance costs, whereas rubber, linoleum and carpet may provide more sustainable alternatives. Highly efficient HVAC systems may have higher initial costs but lower operating costs, and may be less expensive in the long term.

Research continues to find alternative ways to achieve impressive results in the design of a green facility. More affordable technologies and materials include daylight controls and utility-use graphic interfaces where students can monitor utility usage.

Long-term benefits

To build an environmentally responsive facility, schools and universities must choose an appropriate site. The site should conserve existing natural areas, restore damaged areas, minimize storm runoff, control erosion and not introduce pollutants. Also, the orientation of the building on a site affects the ability to provide health and comfort to users of a facility, as well as the ability to create an environment that uses energy and resources efficiently. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, as the development of a project is unique based on its surroundings.

Education facilities have to be designed to ensure they are as healthful and comfortable as possible. Certain mechanical systems affect indoor air quality, as do materials that have low VOCs (volatile organic compounds), such as paints, carpets and coatings.

A comprehensive energy plan applies the best principles of site selection and architectural design early in the planning process to reduce energy demands and minimize the need for energy-consuming utilities such as air conditioning, water heaters and high levels of artificial lighting. Solutions may include metered occupancy sensors, under-floor heating and cooling, gray-water collection, solar hot-water heating systems or the use of a geothermal pond loop.

In addition to design features, it is important to take into consideration the implications of demolishing old buildings. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that construction and demolition generates 136 million tons of waste in the United States each year, so it is important to recycle the waste. Building materials such as demolished brick and concrete can be crushed on site and processed for fill material. By doing this, schools and universities can reduce the costs of purchasing and transporting new fill, as well as hauling off the old fill.

Jahnigen, LEED AP, is an associate project manager for Steed Hammond Paul, an Ohio-based architectural firm that embraces sustainable design and is committed to the LEED initiative.

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