LEED Facility Case Study: Sustainable Growth

LEED Facility Case Study: Sustainable Growth

The first LEED pursuit at Western Michigan University prompted changes campus wide.

The first LEED pursuit at Western Michigan University prompted changes campus wide.

By Anne Cosgrove
Published in the October 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

higher education LEED facility environment energyWhen the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) building at Western Michigan University (WMU) opened in September 2005, it represented the consolidation of 18 academic programs. Comprising 240,000 square feet, the four story building in Kalamazoo, MI accommodates more than 2,500 students and 160 faculty members working in health related fields.

Housing a variety of space types— high-tech laboratories, a human anatomy suite, traditional and distance learning classrooms, and faculty and administrative offices—the building was designed with environmental impact and energy efficiency as a goal. A full height atrium, containing computer labs, a learning resource center, and dining and lounge areas is a central space connecting two building wings.

While WMU did not plan to pursue LEED for New Construction (NC) certification, the university did direct architecture firm, SmithGroup of Detroit, MI, to implement a design following that green rating system. Since 2000, WMU policy on new construction and renovation projects had been that those costing more than $1 million be executed with practices expected to achieve at least LEED Silver. However, the aim was to reduce environmental impact without incurring the expense of applying for certification.

A Green Theme

As such, the CHHS facility was built with an emphasis on sustainability and renewable materials. One area that reflects this is the central atrium connecting the two wings of the building. This atrium is enclosed with glass, which allows daylight to flood the space—aimed at increased occupant satisfaction and decreased energy use for lighting. In order to bring daylight further into the building, the design called for rice paper between sheets of glass along some hallways to create translucent “windows.”

higher education LEED facility environment energyLighting systems throughout the entire building were equipped with motion sensors to minimize illumination of unoccupied spaces. Energy consumption was also addressed with energy efficient HVAC systems, and both approaches resulted in the building’s design exceeding energy code requirements by 30%. Other measures used to achieve this were T5 lamps, automation through direct digital controls (DDC), and an energy recovery system.

Meanwhile, rapidly renewable flooring materials (cork and bamboo) were used extensively. Water usage was addressed with the choice of drought resistant plant materials around the building exterior and the winter garden area of the atrium.

During construction the general contractor implemented a materials waste management plan, and before its opening, the building systems were commissioned to ensure they were operating according to design intent.

Taking A Next Step

Facility managers (fms) often find that sustainability improvements are most successful when supported by their organization’s leadership. Having philosophical and financial support can be the difference between whether or not an initiative is implemented. This held true in the case of WMU’s first LEED certification pursuit.

While new construction and major renovation projects had included LEED design standards since 2000, actual certification was not an option until the university’s current president, John M. Dunn, arrived on campus in July 2007. Peter Strazdas, WMU’s associate vice president of facilities management (FM), says, “President Dunn wanted to quantify the energy saving and other sustainable strategies we had in place. LEED certification was one way to do this.”

A Chat With Peter M. Strazdas, Associate Vice President of Facilities Management, Western Michigan University

higher education LEED facility environment energy

What are your responsibilities at Western Michigan University (WMU)? As the associate vice president of facilities management (FM), I am responsible for both capital construction projects and operations on our campuses. I’ve worked at WMU for 31 years. For the first 10 years, I taught construction management. For the following 10 years, I worked for the university’s construction department. After that, I worked on the operations side, heading up maintenance services before taking my current position in 2009. .

What is a notable change you’ve seen during your tenure in the FM and construction professions? It has to be with technology, specifically the interaction of technologies. Thirty years ago, building systems operated separately, and increasingly, systems are operating in an interactive way. For instance, we can link lighting and HVAC for more energy efficient building operation. This level of sophistication enables us to do much more, but the downside is if something does go wrong, more than one system may be affected.

Another example is how our FM department uses the existing Wi-Fi Internet capability here on campus. That Wi-Fi is primarily for academic purposes, but by “borrowing” this technology, I have equipped my staff with handheld tools. And they can perform their duties in a more efficient manner with limited paperwork.

What projects are you working on now?
Our department is currently overseeing the construction of a new $60 million College of Education building. In keeping with WMU policy, we are going for LEED-NC certification and targeting the Gold level.

The university did not have a major new construction project planned, but Strazdas, previously construction administrator in WMU’s capital construction department, was keeping an eye out for an opportunity. And the CHHS building emerged as the ideal candidate for LEED for Existing Buildings (EB) 2.0.

Strazdas explains, “We had President Dunn’s desire to pursue LEED as opportunities arose. In September 2007, we were approved for a $15,000 grant from the [U.S.] Department of Energy to be used toward implementing energy saving measures in one of our buildings using LEED-EB certification. The CHHS building was one of the newest designed to LEED standards, and this led to the decision to apply the grant there and to pursue LEED-EB for that facility.”

Once the project was approved, Strazdas set out to create a plan, and architecture firm Lord, Aeck & Sargent (LAS) was hired as LEED consultant. In the fall of 2007, the WMU facilities management team and LAS sustainability director, Jim Nicolow, AIA, LEED® AP, began by executing a feasibility study to examine the status of the CHHS building systems and operations. This would identify what items were already in place (to meet LEED prerequisites, and possibly earn points), what measures WMU would pursue to reach LEED Silver (the original goal), and how the team would introduce changes.

In evaluating the building, Strazdas and Nicolow increasingly involved people within and outside of the FM sphere. Observes Nicolow, “Eventually, the effort involved about 40 people on campus, representing different areas of facility, and broader campus, operations. Green cleaning was an area we pursued, and this was new to WMU, so that was one of the areas where we needed to bring in the people who oversee those operations. The university’s procurement department was also heavily involved, since LEED-EB often involves changes to purchasing policies.”

The feasibility study revealed that CHHS met 10 of the 14 LEED-EB prerequisites. Some examples of items in place that helped to meet prerequisites, and also put the project closer to earning points, included: an ozone free cooling system, an occupant recycling program, and a campus no smoking policy.higher education LEED facility environment energy

The fact that the building systems were retrocommissioned initially also benefited the certification effort and achieved a required prerequisite. The FM staff had been conducting ongoing evaluations; as a result, the equipment was found to be operating close to design intent. However, there were opportunities to improve the efficiency of these systems and the building automation system (BAS) linking them.

“We were able to benefit from the capabilities of the [BAS] to make the building perform much more energy efficiently,” says Strazdas. “For instance, the HVAC system interacted with occupancy sensors, but it was set to turn ‘on’ or ‘off’ only. Now, because we’ve installed carbon dioxide [C02] sensors in the building, the HVAC system allows outside air to be introduced using an economizer strategy, which minimizes the cost of ventilating with outside air while maximizing the quality of the air inside the building.”

The sensors communicate to the BAS the level of C02 being emitted in a room (more people equals more C02 and vice versa). And now the HVAC system is programmed to provide several levels of ventilation, based on the amount of C02 sensed. With the “full on” or “full off” settings previously used, the HVAC would use the same amount of energy whether there was one cleaning person in a room, or a classroom full of people.

“That is an example of how we expanded use of a system already in place,” says Strazdas. In discussing the financial investment required for the LEED project, he points out that while WMU did purchase some items (the C02 sensors, for instance), the bulk of what earned LEED points involved improving existing practices, policies, and systems.

Other actions taken to earn LEED points included: installing water conserving plumbing fixtures; creating official policies for green landscaping practices; fine-tuning HVAC system operation (including increased fresh air intake); and conducting waste stream recycling audits.

Setting It In Motion

Once operations were adjusted and new items installed in CHHS, it was time for Nicolow and the WMU team to begin tracking the performance of the facility in anticipation of submitting the LEED application to the USGBC. The team chose a three month performance period—May 2008 through July 2008—during which to gather data on energy and water usage (along with indoor air quality and other operational impacts). Initial LEED-EB certification requires project teams to submit building performance data collected over a three month to one year “performance period.”higher education LEED facility environment energy

“LEED-EB is arguably the most difficult [of the rating systems] to achieve, because it not only includes design and construction issues, it places a significant focus on building operations,” says Strazdas. “This process took us nearly two years of documentation, involved thousands of documents, and changed the culture of how we maintain and operate WMU buildings campus wide.”

In November 2008, the application was submitted, and CHHS was certified at Gold level in May 2009 with a total of 50 points (out of a possible 85 points). Points were awarded in the six LEED categories: Sustainable Sites, 11 of 14; Water Efficiency, 3 of 5; Energy & Atmosphere, 10 of 23; Materials & Resources, 8 of 16; Indoor Environmental Air Quality, 13 of 22; and Innovation in Operations & Maintenance, 5 of 5.

Speaking on his experience with the project, Nicolow says, “As an architect, you often don’t have an opportunity to see how the building is operated after design. During the LEED-EB process, I gained further insight into the role of operations staff. It was great to work with [Strazdas] and the rest of the team to bring the certification to fruition, and gaining this deeper insight into issues of operations and maintenance will hopefully make me a better architect.”

Expanding Efforts

Strazdas explains that the two guiding principles for the LEED pursuit were to improve on total cost of ownership (“80% of a building’s cost is operation,” he notes) and to use LEED-EB as a performance measurement tool. “We had sustainability strategies in place, but we wanted a tool to quantify the results,” he says. “Previously, we had been checking energy use with metering and tracking utility bills, but LEED provided a specific metric with the baseline that we gathered during the three month performance period.”

Speaking on WMU’s approach to operations, as well as FM practices overall, Strazdas says, “Green is not a trend, it’s a culture now. The big story of this project is the effect campus wide. For instance, we are just completing the installation of C02 sensors in many of the buildings on campus.”

Applying new purchasing and operational policies also promises to ease future LEED certifications. Explains Strazdas, “We are working toward pre-approved, pre-documented credits on file with the USGBC [under its Portfolio Program]. These are items we’ve applied campus wide—green cleaning for instance. These can be applied to other buildings we submit for LEED, and we don’t have to pay an outside firm to look into those credits again.”

The CHHS project also served to unify relevant departments in these efforts, and students and faculty have also become more readily involved. From the high level view, in 2009, President Dunn signed on to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which was launched in 2006. With close to 700 institutions now signed on, the commitment represents an effort to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from specified campus operations and to promote related research and educational efforts.

It has been nearly two years since the project team charted the performance of the CHHS building in order to capture a baseline for its operational performance. At last reporting, energy use was down 21%, and water had been reduced by 27%.

Says Strazdas, “For the most part, achieving this LEED certification required a series of changes to existing and relatively small additions. It’s important to note that many of the improvements can be made with systems that are already in place.”

This article was based on interviews with Nicolow (www.lordaecksargent.com) and Strazdas. For more on WMU’s sustainable actions, visit http://www.wmich.edu/sustainability/.


Project Information:

Name Of Facility: Western Michigan University, College of Health & Human Services. Type of Facility: Existing. Original construction completed in March 2005. Function of Facility: Higher Education. Location: Kalamazoo, MI. Square Footage: 240,000. Budget: $60,000, plus 400 in-house hours. Project Timetable: October 2007 to May 2009. Facility Owner: Western Michigan University. In-House Facility Manager: Peter Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management. LEED Consultant: Lord, Aeck & Sargent Architecture.


Product Information:


Building Management System/Services: TAC Niagara Framework UNC; Trane Summit BCU. CMMS Software: TMA Systems. Elevator Software: Motion Control Engineering. Lighting Products: Architectural Area Lighting, Inc. (full cut off exterior fixtures). HVAC Equipment: Fiber Bond Corporation (air filtration); Ruskin (air measuring station); Veris Industries (carbon dioxide sensors). Mulching Mowers: The Toro Company. Beet Juice Pre-wetting Agent: Geomelt (part of de-icing strategy). Reverse Osmosis Deionizing System: IPC Eagle Ultra Pure (chemical free exterior cleaning). Plumbing Fixtures: Chicago Faucets (low flow aerators on lavatory faucets); Sloan Valve Company (dual flush toilet flush valves). Emissions Reduction Reporting: Leonardo Academy’s Cleaner & Greener Program. Cleaning Products: 3M Commercial Care Division. Cleaning Equipment: Kaivac Cleaning Systems. Janitorial Paper Products: Wausau Paper. Chemical Free Water Treatment: Dolphin Water Care, a division of Clearwater Systems Corporation.

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