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When it comes to LEED, Indiana trailing: But area designers, contractors see green progress

September 3, 2007

No environmentalist would mistake Indianapolis for the poster child of green building, but local designers and contractors are preparing themselves to capture a market they expect will become an integral piece of their portfolios.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, better known as LEED, is a benchmark of sorts for designing, building and operating environmentally friendly buildings.

At least 16 projects in the metropolitan area are seeking the LEED certification, but only one so far has achieved green status-a downtown building purchased and renovated by interior design firm IDO Inc.

The 4,700-square-foot structure in the 600 block of North Capitol Avenue is among six projects statewide that have earned the certification, including three at Madison State Hospital in Madison. Overall, at least 57 projects in Indiana are seeking LEED certification, a significant jump from the 14 under way just two years ago.

Yet the Hoosier state lags far behind its neighbors: Illinois has at least 202; Michigan, 148; and Ohio, 132, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, the entity that introduced the LEED program in 2000. The states likely have more, but projects filed as "confidential" by developers are not listed.

"To a certain extent, people [here] are still kind of standing on the sidelines," said Mac Williams, vice chairman of the council's Indiana chapter. "But the tide is starting to turn a little bit. I think everybody knows it's coming."

Industry experts say the program has been slow to catch on in Indiana partly because there are no incentives to make green building more attractive to developers.

The closest thing resembling an initiative is Mayor Peterson's Indy Greenprint, the city's effort to promote environmentally friendly policies and plan to encourage residents to conserve natural resources.

In Chicago, by contrast, LEED projects receive preferential treatment during the zoning process by jumping to the front of the pack. That's critical when approval typically takes nine months.

Ultimately, though, it's the prospect of energy savings that tends to get the ear of developers and others whose job it is to keep financial efficiency in mind. Some studies have shown a green building can be built for just 2 percent to 5 percent above the price of a conventional one.

Under LEED, owners can attain one of four levels of certification depending upon the project's "greenness." In the case of IDO, it scored a silver commercial interior design certification by using such things as salvaged or reused building materials-21 percent of the total-and salvaged, refurbished or reused furniture-69 percent of the furniture in the building.

The reception desk is made from a piece of granite destined for a landfill, and the floor is made of cork, which is considered a renewable material.

"You wouldn't know that our building is green, just by looking at it," IDO owner Jill Mendoza said. "The benefits aren't always visible or noticeable."

What is noticeable is the attention the design-build industry is paying to LEED.

Heeding LEED

At CSO Architects, the city's secondlargest architectural firm, the entire highereducation division participated in a twoday LEED training seminar that led to roughly 15 designers earning LEED accreditation.

Support personnel even took the exam, just to increase their familiarity with terminology, CSO Principal Dan Moriarity said.

Buildings the firm designed that are seeking LEED certification include Park Hall at Ball State University, the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University and the Indianapolis International Airport's midfield terminal.

At the airport, more than 7,000 tons of asphalt and concrete from existing pavement have been ground up and used to make construction roads. Airport officials even reused some of the trees removed from the terminal site. Workers sawed off the root mass and used it to line the banks of a rerouted channel for White Lick Creek.

Buildings at the University of Notre Dame and Illinois Wesleyan University also are on CSO's drawing board, providing further credence that the firm is committed to the green movement. Moriarity expects lawmakers to embrace the issue as well.

"Who's against the environment?" he asked. "I would fully expect at some point for a state legislator to stand up and say, 'All projects funded by state money must be LEED-certified.' That's where I think it's headed."

Local architectural firms Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf Architects and Schmidt Associates, as well as contractor Shiel Sexton Co. Inc., are seeking LEED certification for their own buildings.

Bill Brown, an associate partner at Browning Day, built and designed his passive-solar home and is an expert in LEED design. He also was one of 100 experts from across the country who participated in the Greening of the White House project in 1993 that has resulted in $384,000 of energy savings every month, he said.

Brown teaches a class at his firm that has resulted in 30 employees receiving the LEED designation. More should follow.

"We hope to have a lot of people accredited here," he said, "because we feel it's the future of architecture."

Environmental aspects are addressed on almost every project in which local construction firm Shiel Sexton is involved, regardless of whether LEED is a goal, said Frank Duck, a group manager there.

The firm participated in the Madison State Hospital project and served as general contractor in the downtown IDO renovation. Duck is among a half-dozen people at Shiel who have become LEED-accredited. He said the distinction might give one the expertise to recommend a heating and cooling system to gain another LEED point, at no cost, for example.

"Having that accreditation definitely helps show your commitment to the process and your expertise in dealing with it," he said.

Not everyone is successful

Other local projects pursuing LEED certification include the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, the Minton-Capehart Federal Building, the Indiana State Department of Health's new laboratory and the Pyramids office complex.

At the Pyramids, New York-based owner Sterling American Property Inc. spent $4 million to transform the aging office park into an environmental haven.

Debris created by the renovation was sorted and transported to specific landfills within a certain radius to conserve fuel. The asphalt used to resurface the parking lot contained recycled tires. The glue to lay the carpet did not include certain chemicals.

The costliest changes occurred in the 72 lavatories, where each was outfitted with low-flow commodes and urinals to conserve water.

Despite all the good will, though, Williams of the Green Building Council doubts every local project will achieve certification. In fact, a third of all projects nationally don't follow through.

"That's especially true when firms and clients are going through it the first time," he said. "They don't know the pitfalls of managing the project properly. If someone has not done the documentation at a steady pace, that can be a major problem in completing certification."
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