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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Campus Construction’s Move Toward Sustainability, And All its Challenges

    Stony Brook University has recently turned its attention to “greening” buildings on campus. The university has decided to comply with The United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, program — the de-facto standard for sustainable building of today.

    Yet behind the simple plaque, an enormous amount of energy is put into applying for LEED, making sure each and every facet of the building complies with LEED standards. The process ends up making buildings more expensive, the process itself time-consuming, and hundreds of thousands of dollars just to apply for certification.

    The heart of the LEED program revolves around point allotment in six major categories of sustainability. An energy model is first created for the building, and then it is up to the building owner to accumulate points by reducing energy consumption, stated by the model. The location of the building, the plumbing system, even the way the windows are placed are all allotted points, and the more points obtained, the higher the certification level. After meeting a pre-requisite level, building owners can strive for certified, silver, gold, and platinum levels of certification.

    In 2007, under President Shirley Strum Kenny, Stony Brook University committed all of its new construction to LEED silver certification. This includes buildings like the campus recreation center, and the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, slated to open in Sept. 2010.

    The Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, or AERTC — located at Stony Brook’s Research and Development Park — is currently the only building on campus to strive for LEED platinum certification.

    In addition to LEED certification, the university also complies with Executive Order 111, put in place by former New York State Gov. George Pataki in 2001, to “promote green buildings and conserve energy.” While obtaining LEED certification guarantees that a building complies with 111, buildings that do not obtain certification still have to use energy efficient systems, such as better air conditioning controls.

    Seeing Green

    Getting a building LEED certified isn’t cheap. According to Louis Rispoli, director of facilities and construction at the university, a LEED silver building typically costs 7 to 15 percent more than a non-LEED building. This can be a problem, because if state funders like the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York allocated money for construction before the University’s commitment to LEED silver, money may fall short-only enough to meet Order 111.

    Because of this same logic, getting higher than LEED silver certification can be tough — AERTC had originally constructed plans for 50-52,000 square feet. The current model of the building is 43,000 square feet, losing generic lab spaces to get higher LEED certification.

    “You hope that the tradeoff costs are offset by the energy conserved,” said Rispoli.

    Tally up

    The LEED point system also has some questioning whether the sustainable acts are really weighed properly.

    “You might put in a bike rack and get one point and you might put in a solar panel array and only get one point for that too,” said Vincent Bataoel, a LEED consultant for Above Green, LLC.

    And while LEED does look at a building’s reduction in energy consumption, it may miss a big factor in global warming.

    “It doesn’t focus that much on greenhouse gas emissions,” said Amy Provenzano, executive director of the environmental stewardship at Stony Brook University. “It should focus more specifically on the contributions to global warming.”

    But for Stony Brook University, the skeleton of the LEED point system poses a huge barrier to getting higher certification levels. Because points are given to a stand-alone building, outside energy sources cannot be factored in. Because the university gets its electricity and steam from the co-generational plant on campus, this central source cannot be used to gain points.

    “If we could account for the amount of money we save from using the co-gen plant, almost every building on campus could be LEED certified,” said Rispoli. “But because LEED evaluates just the building, we can’t.”

    Others think that the contract is a hindrance to getting higher LEED certification levels. The 26-year contract, which is due to end in 2023, forbids the university from added external sources of energy, such as solar panels, natural gas resources, even wind-power to the building. Because of this, certain energy conservation points cannot be gained — according to LEED, construction for energy efficiency must be shown on the building.

    Buildings at Stony Brook Southampton and the Research and Development Park do not fall under the contract-this might make it easier for them to get a higher level of certification.

    “Students and professors ask why we can’t add solar panels to every building on campus,” said Peter Krumdieck, campus energy manager. “The truth is that they’re expensive, but they also violate our contract.”

    The point system also makes oversight on compliance with all aspects of construction escalate. The architects aren’t the only ones that have to be green-conscious.

    “We can lose points if the contractor doesn’t recycle properly,” said Ken Fehling, director of residential operations at Stony Brook University who is overseeing the construction of the new dormitory between Roosevelt and Kelly Quads.

    A green future by cutting down trees

    For all the clamor about greening buildings and being more sustainable, LEED involves a lot of paper.

    “It is actually a lot of paperwork,” said Rispoli.

    Each point on the checklist must be accounted for in some way, showing proof that the conservation effort did indeed reduce energy consumption. Because of this, it is necessary to have a LEED consultant to help get certified. The LEED consultant is usually brought in at the planning stage, and shows what the possibilities for construction are. They also keep track of the majority of LEED paperwork, all of course, at a price.

    “Some consultants charge 1 to 5 percent of the total building cost for the paperwork. This is a small cost that is usually built into the contract with the architectural firm,” said Bataoel.

    “It’s no joke putting it together — that’s why people don’t go for the actual plaque,” said Provenzano.

    Provenzano may have a point. Boston University has said that it will not go for LEED certification, choosing to spend the LEED administrative money on other green projects. Some schools, such as University of Arkansas and Mesa State University, have decided to use an alternative green building rating system, such as Green Globes.

    Like it or not

    Despite all the brouhaha surrounding LEED, it will probably remain the most veritable certification system in sustainable building.

    “The big benefit of LEED certification is that it is third party verified,” said Bataoel. “There is some quality control or objective guarantee of the environmental quality of the project.”

    LEED also guarantees that the building is comprehensively green.

    “A contractor could say a building is green, for instance, just because they use non-toxic materials — but maybe the building is really energy inefficient or wasteful with respect to water,” said Bataoel.

    There are also benefits to having the LEED plaque for Stony Brook University. According to Provenzano, LEED certified building may attract prospective students who are interested in a university’s commitment to sustainability. In addition, both she and Bataoel agree that work environment is better in a LEED building.

    “Surveys show that not only are energy costs less when a building is built to LEED standards, but you also have a happier staff,” said Provenzano. “You have a more productive environment.”

    Looking to the Future

    In 2009, LEED will be coming out with new guidelines, which may change the weight of the points
    in the checklist. It also will include new points that a building can obtain, most of which come from their “innovations and design” credits section, an area where builders can earn two points by showing creativity in sustainable building. Stony Brook Southampton’s new sewage treatment center will get innovation credits by creating the treatment plant into an educational facility, complete with visitor’s center and guided tour.

    With the recent proposition on budget cuts, it is still up in the air how this may affect the LEED certification levels for building construction on campus. Buildings such as the campus recreation center have already secured money for construction, but according to Rispoli, the outcome on whether it will still attain LEED silver is still unclear.

    But as these new, glitzy, green buildings go up on campus, there is one thing clear about the university’s commitment to sustainability.

    “We should be building our buildings green regardless of whether or not there is LEED,” said Provenzano.

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