Regardless of its size, location, configuration, educational program, or appearance, Brunswick’s new elementary school will incorporate a number of new approaches to building efficiency and sustainability. Some of these are required by recent changes in state law and Department of Education rules affecting school construction; others are part of the leading standard for sustainability in design and construction.
State law requires that the new school project: (1) include design and systems that provide the greatest benefit over at least a 30-year life by minimizing its long-term energy and operating costs, (2) be designed to use 20 percent less energy than industry standards, and (3) meet all industry standards for ventilation and interior air quality. Maine has adopted a set of criteria called the “Maine Benchmark” for public buildings to ensure that state-funded buildings meet these aggressive design targets.
The criteria provide requirements for the design, documentation, construction, and operational testing of public buildings. Specific requirements for air movement, insulation, lighting (indoor and outdoor), window design, heating plants, electric motors, and automated controls are also included.
These minimum standards ensure that a new building will be cost and energy efficient … on opening day, and 30 years in the future.
State approval of the new school’s concept design depends on the design meeting all of these criteria, and the costs required to meet them are reimbursable. The Maine Benchmark requirements focus on getting the most good from every unit of energy and every dollar of construction and operating costs. However, it is only one of two sets of criteria that the Brunswick Elementary School Building Committee and architects will use.
Sustainable building design tries to affect the overall environment as little as necessary by emphasizing efficiency and moderation in the use of energy, materials, and space. The level of sustainability in a building project design is directly addressed by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. Formal LEED certification is not required by law, and many of the Maine Benchmark criteria are actually prerequisites to attempting LEED consideration.
LEED will have significantly different focus and impact than Maine Benchmark on the new school project. First, the LEED system addresses much more than just the building and its efficiency.
Aspects of LEED involve the site, community impacts, construction materials and processes, as well as operational and maintenance processes after the school opens. Even the degree of innovation in the design is included in LEED consideration.
Second, LEED addresses how the aspects of increased sustainability are achieved as much as it addresses the actual achievement of those aspects. As anyone who has been involved in a process-based quality award application (ISO 9000, Baldrige, Margaret Chase Smith) can attest, this is a huge effort that involves a withering amount of paperwork. However, the successful end result of such an effort is a set of defined, documented, and measurable processes that are easily and continuously managed, evaluated and improved.
This means that there will always be a formal, measurable and reviewable blueprint for maintaining the building’s sustainability.
Next, LEED is voluntary and flexible; the Brunswick Elementary School Building Committee can choose the level of LEED certification it wants to attempt for the new school, from “basic” to the rarely achieved ultra-sustainable “platinum” level, or choose not to attempt certification at all.
Since each level is based on a range of points, the committee can choose to focus on specific aspects whose point totals add up to the desired level. This decision must be made early in the design process because it will affect every aspect of the entire project: from conceptual design and budgeting through day-to-day operation after the school opens.
Finally, because it is a voluntary process, the additional costs of formal LEED certification have, in the past, not been fully reimbursed by the Department of Education, although some new technologies used to achieve certification have been. Formal LEED certification, like an oversized “community-use” gym, will require some amount of local funding. Higher levels of formal certification will require higher levels of local funding.
Of course, the Building Committee can choose to use the aspects of the LEED process as a guideline, and include only certain aspects into the design and construction of the new school without seeking formal certification. However, the LEED items with the biggest long-range payback to the community and the environment are the ones with the biggest price tag and will, very likely, require local funding.
In conclusion, the new elementary school will be significantly more advanced and efficient than the rest of Brunswick’s school buildings through the incorporation of Maine Benchmark and LEED. Maine Benchmark, in its focus on efficiency and life-cycle costs, will allow the Building Committee and architects to “think locally and act locally.”>/p>
LEED, in its focus on wide-scope and long-range sustainability, will allow the entire community to “think globally and act locally.”>/p>