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Saving green while going green

Keith Hensley installs lights that are compliant with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards in the new offices of American Transmission Co. LLC in Waukesha on April 1.  Photo by Peter Zuzga

Keith Hensley installs lights that are compliant with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards in the new offices of American Transmission Co. LLC in Waukesha on April 1. Photo by Peter Zuzga

Dustin Block
dustin.block@dailyreporter.com

La Crosse County’s new jail will boast many sustainable features, but it won’t have a LEED plaque to prove it.
The County Board decided not to certify the building through the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Doing so would have taken the project over budget, said La Crosse County Board Supervisor Vicki Burke.

“We felt we had a quality building” without LEED certification, she said.

A number of clients are making that decision, said d’Andre Willis, a principal at Hammel, Green and Abrahamson Inc. in Milwaukee and president of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance. Completing LEED certification offers assurances designs for a green building were executed, she said, but many owners are content building to the U.S. Green Building Council’s standards without a formal stamp of approval.

“You can do a good job without certifying, no question,” Willis said.

However, following through on LEED certification offers a third-party review of buildings to ensure they do what they claim to do — namely save energy, reduce the effect on the environment and create an above-average workspace for employees, Willis said.

“It holds everyone more accountable,” she said.

But the bottom line sometimes trumps the proof.

Cindy Finstad, construction executive for M.A. Mortenson Co., Milwaukee, said it’s unusual for clients not to mention sustainable building when inquiring about projects. Not everyone wants to pursue LEED certification, she said, but nearly everyone wants sustainable elements included in their plans.

“People are interested in the benefits of LEED without paying the price,” Finstad said.

But that’s not to say no one is willing to pay the price. Mortenson has more LEED projects going at the moment than at any time its history, Finstad said.

David Hubka of Total Mechanical Inc., Pewaukee, travels the country teaching LEED to professionals. He said contractors everywhere are meeting clients who are rethinking their office spaces and want to cut costs.
“People are finally waking up to, ‘What can I save on my energy bill?'” he said.

It’s turning into good work for Total Mechanical, he said. The company has 10 LEED projects going at the moment, which is a lot for a company that doesn’t specialize in sustainable building, Hubka said.

The USGBC is confident enough in sustainable building to toughen its standards for LEED certification in the midst of the recession. The nonprofit announced it was planning to enact LEED 2009, also called LEED V3, April 27.

The new standard requires all certified buildings use at least 10 percent less energy than standard-built construction. It also gives extra points to buildings that take into account regional issues, such as preservation of farmland in Wisconsin.

While the changes require stricter standards and the economy is tightening budgets, interest in sustainable building remains high, Willis said.

The university of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is building its new residence hall, Cambridge Commons, with sustainable elements in mind.  Rendering Courtesy of HGA Architects and Engineers

The university of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is building its new residence hall, Cambridge Commons, with sustainable elements in mind. Rendering Courtesy of HGA Architects and Engineers

Membership in the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance is growing, and HGA continues to land sustainable projects, she said. The firm is working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to build a new residence hall. One energy-saving component is the replacement of students’ individual refrigerators with one larger refrigerator per every four students. While the students lose some privacy, Willis said, she expects they will respond positively to the environmental message of the change.

“Once they realize how much energy they’re saving,” she said, “it will be compelling.”

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