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Green building bill worries project owners (UPDATE)

The 160,000-square-foot Derse Inc. National Headquarters building in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley is one of the first industrial buildings in Wisconsin to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification. (Photo courtesy of Derse Inc.)

The 160,000-square-foot Derse Inc. National Headquarters building in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley is one of the first industrial buildings in Wisconsin to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification. If one state lawmaker has his way, they'll be plenty more of LEED Silver buildings in Wisconsin. (Photo courtesy of Derse Inc.)

By Paul Snyder

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.”


  1. If LEED certified buildings made financial sense, then ALL developers would be tripping over themselves to get their projects certified. Gone are the days where folks would pay 10% more for a building because it’s considered “green”. If there isn’t a financial benefit or an improvement in the quality of life of the occupants, then nobody cares about the certification.

  2. The LEED rating system, under the private auspices of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is a voluntary standard for benchmarking energy efficiency for building design. Although very popular amongst designers and tend-setting owners alike, it is not a building code and does not carry enforcement recognition in Wisconsin nor by our municipalities; nor was developed for such compliance enforcement in mind. Read back on The Daily Reporter’s 5-part LEED series, Fall 2008. Sept 10th front-page article by Robbie Whelan, begins– “If you say your building is green enough, the U.S. Green Building Council will take your money and your word.” There have also been legal challenges to the sales of LEED certifications, as well. It’s surprising to see legislation, which would use the LEED benchmark since it’s not enforceable.

    With above comment in mind regarding the fact that LEED is not and could not be an enforceable building code. It’s important to remember that when the Governor’s Task Force on Energy ended with their recommendations back in 2007 a green building code and green standards adoptable into building codes were only conceptual ideas. Therefore the Governor’s task force concluded with a general recommendation that building with about a 30% increase in energy efficiency would be a desirable benchmark for high-performance green buildings and they referenced the LEED Silver as their recommendation because there were no other green building code or standard available back in 2007 that had progressed to acceptable adoptive levels back then.

    January 2010 first marks the availability of a 30% standard for adoption into building code. Today, we have ASHRAE Standard 189.1, which provides a “total building sustainability package” for those who strive to design, build and operate green buildings. From site location to energy use to recycling, this standard sets the foundation for green buildings by addressing site sustainability, water use efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and the building’s impact on the atmosphere, materials and resources. Standard 189.1 serves as a jurisdictional compliance option to the Public Version 1.0 of the International Green Construction Code (IgCC) published by the International Code Council. The IgCC regulates construction of new and remodeled commercial buildings. March 15th, 2010 is the landmark unveiling of the first draft of the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code-Version 1.0 (IgCC) for public review and comment.

    With the massively comprehensive Clean Energy & Job Act (SB 450), containing a first incipient step toward a voluntary green building code embodied within, about to be unveiled once again, after closed-door cuts and edits, like a butterfly from a cocoon, by the end of April, it seems even more surprising that this bill would complicate the playing field. Maybe it’s intended as a backup if the big baloon busts?

  3. Rick Gabriel, AIA, LEED AP

    The certification costs Mr. Truelove presents are overstated for 10,000 to 30,000 s.f. buildings. Our architectural firm is currently working on three LEED buildings and has submitted fee proposals on several others that included LEED certification services for half that cost.

    Our proposals included costs (including consultant costs from Mr. Truelove’s firm on occasion) for LEED documentation, energy modeling, commissioning and LEED registration/certification fees that ranged from about $50,000 for 12,000 s.f. buildings ($4-$5/s.f.) up to about $75,000 for 30,000 s.f. buildings ($2-$3/s.f.).

    The fear of significant greater first costs is often overstated as well. “Cost of Green Revisited”, a 2007 study by Davis Langdon, a construction management and cost estimating company, states “there is no significant difference in average costs for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings”.

    Representative Molepske makes the correct point regarding LEED certified buildings: they save taxpayers money. More energy-efficient, healthier buildings save energy, water, and even reduce staff sick day costs. Public building owners typically own and operate their buildings for very long periods of time. According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, the cost to design and construct a building is typically only 2% of the total cost of ownership over a 30 year period. Operations, maintenance and personnel account for the remaining 98% of costs.

    The leaders of public institutions should embrace LEED certified buildings as a way to meet their stated goal of saving money for their constituents.

  4. Typical I have the opposite problem, our coucil leaders are not that bothered if our building is green they are more concerd with the visual effect on the area. Why can’t concils be more opened minded, this is peoples living they are messing around with.

  5. All of this green building will be for naught if we can’t come up with some kind of population growth plan. What happened to the 70’s ZPG movement? I bet Poppy Bush had something to do with its demise. Population growth control has to go hand in hand with green building or we’re just spinning our wheels.

  6. Conservation development is the right path for many reasons, including the tremendous population growth. The impact of commercial development and housing on natural resources and landscapes has historically been an after thought in many areas of America and the world. So I can only applaud those that advocate more environmentally friendly building codes. We’ll all be better for it.

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