School district pays price for LEED quality

Documentation and other “soft costs” will be an additional $40,000

The RE1J school district would rather not put a price tag on a healthy environment for students or energy efficient buildings, but that is just what they have to do at the Crested Butte Community School.



While negotiating an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the town of Crested Butte that would allow the school to expand onto town property, the two sides eventually agreed that a LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) certification for the school would give the town the assurance it needed that the new construction would be sustainable.
Now, the architect and school district agree that the upfront cost of a LEED certification will be about $130,000 and the money should be recouped over the life of the project.
The town intended to have a school building that was built to be energy efficient with materials that were safe for the students and, for a price, the LEED certification process offers the oversight to insure that those goals are met.
 “When we had set aside money from the bond for each project, we actually put a little extra ($240,000) aside for CBCS for IGA contingencies, like the LEED certification,” says superintendent Jon Nelson.
Some of that money will pay for a contract between the district and Boulder-based YRG Sustainability, which works with the district’s architect and contractors “to identify appropriate sustainability goals, determine and manage an effective approach, and support successful implementation,” according to the company’s website.
Throughout the design phase of construction, a YRG consultant has been reviewing the plans to verify that the materials that Blythe Group & Co., which is managing the district’s projects, said would be used are actually making it into the construction.
The consultant will also make sure the design will meet the energy efficiency goals that are required for the LEED certification.
 “I think hiring the consultant means there will be about $60,000 to $90,000 of additional cost to the district,” says Nelson, adding that the cost will vary based on how much time the consultant spends on the project.
A YRG representative could not be reached to comment on this story.
Along with the consultant’s fee, there are “soft costs” associated with the certification process that, according to a study on the cost effectiveness of the LEED certification in Colorado that was prepared for the Governor’s Office of Energy Management and Conservation in 2006, amount to about $1 per square foot of new construction.
Soft costs include fees for registering and certifying a project through the United States Green Building Council, documentation costs, commissioning costs and energy analysis costs.
For the Crested Butte Community School, which is getting more than 42,000 square feet of new space, the soft costs should run right around $40,000.
According to Roy Blythe, principal and owner of the Blythe Group & Co., the cost to upgrade the materials used in the construction to meet LEED standards was about $40,000. But, he said, the plan had been to use those materials from the beginning, before the LEED certification became mandatory, and were just absorbed into the cost of the project.
 “When we went to work designing the Crested Butte Community School, we planned on having the highest quality materials in the construction. So when we started running through the LEED checklist, we found out that our building already exceeded the standard,” said Blythe.
Overall, the study showed that buildings of a comparable size to the addition at the Crested Butte Community School that got the same level of LEED certification cost just over $3 per square foot more than buildings constructed with standard grade materials.
But all of those efficiencies should lead to financial savings. A 40,000 square foot building with the same certification level as what is planned for CBCS saved almost $2.50 per square foot on energy costs after the upgrades were installed.
But the cost of infrastructure that offers efficiency and a financial return is different than paying for the certification process. Several of the 11 projects surveyed in the study felt that they could not justify the documentation costs on future projects, but all of the entities responsible for the construction of the projects agreed that the LEED certification had merit and said they would pursue it on future projects.
The study also pointed out that in all of the projects that were surveyed, there were hard and soft benefits to equal or outweigh the hard and soft costs.
It says, “In most cases, the improvements in energy costs pay for themselves many times over, and enhancements in the work or learning environment provides benefits for the life of the building.”

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