Karen Alarid, executive director of capital for Albuquerque Public Schools, describes the tipping point that changed her mindset about building standards: In 2007, she saw a neighboring school district sharing the stage with President Clinton at the USGBC national green building conference. At that moment, Alarid says, she thought, "How is it possible that our neighboring school district is up there on stage with the former President and we haven't even started?" Then she says she turned to her colleague and said, "that's it, we're doing it."
The school district now requires that each new school achieve a minimum certification of LEED Silver. Alarid says that originally the district did not require actual certification. Rather schools had to be built to the same standard, what is often described as a "certifiable" building.
But the district found that "designers were doing this and that but no one was really overseeing the whole process and there was no proof that green building and design was actually getting done," she says. When challenged with the idea that LEED certification isn't necessary, she likens the argument to building codes and says, "you don't just promise to build the right way and expect the city officials to take your word for it."
Alarid says the differences that she has seen with LEED schools in her district are dramatic. "The difference is in the natural light and the smell of the buildings," she says. "You can see a difference as soon as you walk in the buildings."
At the same time, Alarid acknowledges that it is not always easy to implement LEED at district level or get buy-in from important stakeholders and decision makers in the district. She says that for her district, two critical steps were having a green building champion in her department who "took ownership of the whole process" and also getting together the architects that were currently working with the district to outline the district's intent related to LEED and to lay out non-negotiable strategies.
"We had some firms that had never heard of LEED and a few that maybe had done one building. So the experience ran the gamut," says Alarid. Proactively engaging that group at the outset has paid dividends to the district in the past four years as more and more schools have engaged in the LEED process.
Another area that causes hesitancy to fully engage in LEED is cost. But Alarid says that for Albuquerque Public Schools, cost has not been greater.
"Construction costs are market-driven and we are not seeing any additional costs for building LEED compared to our non-LEED schools," she says. "In fact most are slightly less when you compare construction cost to construction cost."
Also, when accounting for increased design fees due to elements like energy modeling, daylight simulations and acoustic consultants, the cost premium is still very manageable for the district with an average premium of 0.82 percent of total construction cost. (See "A School System's Successes" on page 48.) Other schools may have seen higher costs for LEED buildings in the past but the experience at Albuquerque Public Schools tells a significantly different story and makes a strong case for LEED for Schools.
So what's next? Alarid says she's going to keep going until someone makes her stop. She envisions a broader expansion and engagement with other operations-based departments in the district outside of the new construction function. For other school facility managers, LEED for Schools is there waiting, with the promise of significant benefits for students' education.
Ben Stanley, LEED AP, BD&C, is a consultant at YRG Sustainability. Stanley works on a range of green building projects with technical expertise in green building process management, project team coordination, sustainable operation, and LEED documentation and certification.
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