Carolyn Fox is proud of the newest building on the UCCS campus, and not just because she calls the Ent Center for the Arts “a piece of artwork in itself.”
Fox touts the acoustics of the five performance venues, the continuous lobby that offers views of Pikes Peak, and the stylish exterior. As the UCCS Executive Director of Construction and Planning, she also helped design the building, although she says about 100 people had a hand in that process.
“This was always meant to be a signature building on campus,” she said while sitting on new furniture in the spacious lobby. “This building is different because we expect so much of the public to come here. We envision them having dinner across the street at one of the restaurants and walking through the tunnel to see a performance here. It’s still designed for student use but it’s a public building too.”
Like all other new buildings at UCCS, the 92,000-square-foot Ent Center for the Arts — built at a cost of approximately $70 million — was constructed to be sustainable. It’s environmentally friendly and designed to conserve energy. That was a requirement, Fox explained.
“It’s a mandate from the state Legislature that any new building on campus in the CU system has to be LEED certified,” she said. “It’s a mandated high-energy performance program.”
LEED, short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was created by the United States Green Building Council [not a part of the U.S. government] in 1998 and introduced a Green Building Rating System that awards points for water efficiency, energy usage, construction materials, disposal of construction waste, indoor air quality, the building site, site drainage and many other factors. Criticism has been leveled at the program because it will also award points for having things like bicycle racks and showers.
Fox said all new UCCS buildings are built to LEED Gold standard, the third highest of the four-tiered rating system.
“We’re here for our students and they want sustainable buildings and a sustainable environment,” Fox said.
But is it worth the added cost to adhere to the LEED program?
“The biggest argument some people have against LEED buildings is that it increases cost, and the certification process also costs several thousand dollars,” Fox said. “You can argue that putting in more efficient mechanical systems helps you get that money back.”
The return on investment, she said, is highly scrutinized.
“If we can see a return in seven years, we’ll implement whatever that part of the program is to get those points toward certification,” she said. “If it’s over 10 years, we won’t. Seven to 10 years is our gray area.
“For being LEED Gold, we get a plaque on the door and a sticker on the window,” she said. “It’s hard to put a value on that, though. When we bring students through with their parents, that LEED Gold rating seems to matter to them.”
LEED was modeled after the United Kingdom’s Building Research Environmental Assessment Method [BREEAM], which was established in 1990. Green Globes, a rival to LEED in the U.S., was launched by Green Building Initiative in 2005 by adapting the Canadian version of BREEAM. LEED and Green Globes are similar rating systems, although LEED is better known.
“A LEED commercial office building used to be a big draw five years ago,” said Brian Risley, a principal at CRP Architects. “Today, I’m not sure it would be a big selling point. It’s more of a feel-good story for the building owner; I’m not sure the cost savings are passed on to the tenant. We’re not seeing people scrambling to look for LEED buildings these days. It’s more important to be in the right part of town than in the right building.”
Risley said there are three basic reasons why a building owner might consider high-performance criteria: the financial benefit due to energy reduction; environment; and if it’s a state requirement.
“It costs 3 to 5 percent more to get certification, to get that plaque on the wall,” Risley said. “Being certified doesn’t really change your bottom line.”
It can, however, bring a return on investment, he said.
“Sometimes payback takes 12 to 15 years and that’s why some don’t certify even if they would qualify,” Risley said. “If it’s 10 years or less, it makes sense.”
Fox said LEED keeps raising the bar and just came out with Level 4 that has more stringent criteria to certify.
“The minimum standards for building code keep going up, so LEED standards have to keep going up,” Risley said. “Standard buildings built today meet the criteria for LEED from 10 years ago.”
Landscape architect Jim Houk, president of Thomas & Thomas, said some people have become discouraged with the LEED program, and although they may build to those standards, they won’t maintain some of them as years pass.
“LEED played an important role in the last 15 to 20 years,” Houk said. “LEED opened the door and made the conversation easier for green ideas, but a lot of clients don’t want to pay for certification.”
Schools going green
CRP Architects was part of the remodel at Cheyenne Mountain High School and has designed several new schools in Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8, Risley said.
“Cheyenne Mountain was built with LEED criteria in mind but they didn’t go for certification because they didn’t want to pay the cost,” Risley said. “Almost all of the buildings in the Fountain-Fort Carson school district have some LEED components, such as geothermal fields, high-performance mechanical systems, LED lighting and passive heating and cooling ventilation.”
Risley said there is another program out there to build sustainable schools — Collaborative for High Performance Schools. In 2015, Colorado became the first state in the nation to adopt the US-CHPS Criteria for healthy, high-performance schools, through an update to the Colorado High Performance Certification Program. The Colorado Office of the State Architect has requirements for state departments and educational institutions in the construction of new buildings and the substantial renovation of existing buildings, and covers projects funded by the Colorado Department of Education.
“There are only a handful of those schools in the state,” Risley said. “We’re working on one in the Denver area, Mapleton Public Schools.”
Fox said there are nine buildings on the UCCS campus that are LEED Gold, and another five that are in use but waiting to be certified.
“We want to be cost effective and show good business sense,” Fox said. “A commercial developer, on the other hand, might not think it’s worth it to put extra money into [a LEED building] unless he can sell it for more. But we own these buildings and feel it’s beneficial in the long run.”