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Taking the LEED

Education institutions are constructing new facilities and modernizing existing buildings at a record pace. In fact, in 2003, school and university construction spending reached an all-time high, and expenditures over the next three years are projected to remain robust (see p. 24).

This high level of activity offers administrators and planners an ideal opportunity to further evaluate how their projects impact not only students, staff and the community, but also the environment.

A growing number of education institutions are incorporating into construction projects a commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility by focusing on sustainability. For a process that once was seen as too quirky or pricey to implement, schools and universities now are seeing that the economics of “green” buildings are lining up with the environmental benefits.

A number of studies have illustrated how sustainable, high-performance facilities enhance learning, are more healthful, and reduce energy expenditures and long-term operating costs. But green building often falls into the same quandary that has plagued education-facilities financing for decades: first cost vs. long-term cost. Do we spend money now to implement the best plans, use the most effective materials and install equipment that may cost more upfront but result in greater performance and cost savings over the life of the building?

Two recent articles appearing the same day in Arizona newspapers illustrate this predicament. One touts a superintendent's desire to build a green school that would, among other things, save $45,000 a year in energy bills. However, planning is stalled as the district and state determine how to fund the initial higher costs the environmentally friendly school will require. The other story shares how many of the state's school districts will need to cut programs and lay off staff as a result of a proposed price hike by the local utility.

A number of valuable tools are available to help you create sustainable facilities. The most recognized is the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, which is a voluntary national standard for developing sustainable buildings (see Scorecard).

And for those wondering if you can afford to build green, ask yourself if you can afford not to.


LEED consists of five main categories: energy, indoor environmental quality, materials, siting and water conservation, as well as a special category on innovation and design. For more information on LEED, visit


Number of points a project must earn to achieve a “Certified” rating under LEED.


Number of points a project must earn to achieve a “Silver” rating under LEED.


Number of points a project must earn to achieve a “Gold” rating under LEED.


Number of points a project must earn to achieve a “Platinum” rating under LEED, the highest level possible.


Number of elementary and secondary school buildings currently Version 2 LEED certified (2 Certified, 2 Silver, 2 Gold), located in MI, NM, NC, OR, PA and VA.


Number of higher-education buildings currently Version 2 LEED certified (3 Certified, 4 Silver and 1 Gold), located in FL, GA (2), IA, NY, PA (2) and SC.

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