A state lawmaker wants to require public buildings be constructed to green standards despite fears by project owners that the law would bust their project budgets.
State Rep. Louis Molepske Jr., D-Stevens Point, has introduced a bill requiring new public buildings or major building additions of at least 10,000 gross square feet achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification. The bill also extends those standards to local governments and public school districts.
The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification involves an independent third-party review of a building’s design, construction and performance in terms of energy and water efficiency, material and resource use, sustainable site development and indoor air quality.
Molepske said his bill stems from a 2006 executive order directing the state to build projects that are 30 percent more energy efficient than the commercial building code requires.
“But it doesn’t say how we’re going to achieve that,” he said. “The public wants us to define what green is, save tax dollars and build smart.”
The certification, however, can cost project owners as much as $100,000 and take from one to three years to complete, said Eric Truelove, director of sustainable design services for Madison-based The Renschler Co.
“Most commercial buildings are between 10,000 and 30,000 square feet,” he said. “So if you’re looking at a 10,000-square-foot building with $100,000 in certification costs, it’s another $10 per square foot.
“If an owner asks me whether to get the certification or take the money and go get an efficient cooling system, I’m going to say the latter.”
Furthermore, Truelove said, not all buildings that seek certification receive it.
“Eventually, someone’s not going to get certified,” he said. “What do you do at that point? Everyone’s moved into the building. Do you say, ‘Tear it down?’ You can’t. The cost would be too much.”
If the state were to let the building stand without certification, Truelove said, the decision would set a precedent for future planning teams.
“Developers will fight this,” he said.
Developers will not be alone. Extending the requirement to school districts will further challenge school boards already struggling to pass referendums, said Allen Roehl, vice president of the Milton School Board. The district, he said, already has delayed seeking $80 million through a referendum to build a new high school and renovate other schools.
“To get a referendum to people now is just ridiculous,” Roehl said. “Talking about building green is a good idea, but it would be harder to pass referendums if we have to add these costs.”
But cost concerns do not faze Molepske, who said certification would not make projects more expensive because reduced energy consumption offsets the higher price tag.
“I’ll argue with anybody on costs,” he said. “I think the projects will sell themselves. Whether it’s a courthouse or schools, it’s not like they’re being built every day. But when a government or school district decides to make that investment, it should be fulfilling.”
The University of Wisconsin System already designs most projects to LEED silver standards, said David Miller, UW System vice president of capital planning and budget. The UW System has avoided certification because of high costs.
“If it is a student-funded project,” Miller said, “that’s going to mean an increased cost to students.”
Molepske’s bill hamstrings too many planners when they can least afford it, said state Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah.
“I think with the projects we look at, almost all of them have looked at LEED certification,” said Kaufert, a member of the state Building Commission. “Does it make sense to look at standards? Absolutely. But this is not a one-size-fits-all thing.”
The Assembly Committee on Jobs, the Economy and Small Business on Wednesday will hold a public hearing on the bill. Molepske said the bill establishes accountability for construction projects.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s be green,’ but if you don’t provide the framework, you’re never going to get there,” he said. “I really don’t believe I’m asking too much here.”