When it comes to sustainable design, terminology can mean everything.
Teton County School District No. 1’s Board of Trustees will not seek LEED certification for the new Munger Mountain Elementary School. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a rating system created by the United States Green Building Council to evaluate the environmental performance of a building.
Instead, the district is planning to build the school up to certain LEED standards — a move they say is more fiscally responsible.
“Seeking LEED certification is a paperwork drill,” Brad Barker, chief operating officer for the district, said. “What we’re not doing is all the paperwork, because that would be, in essence, paying $250,000 to $300,000 for a plaque.
“That’s not a prudent use of taxpayer dollars,” he said.
The state of Wyoming doesn’t pay for anything that’s above code requirements.
“The most current code will get you to LEED silver status to begin with,” Barker said. “So instead, we are pursuing energy-saving measures that have proven cost-saving benefits.”
Some energy-saving measures under consideration include heating systems and LED lighting. Barker said specific design choices are still in the process of being finalized.
The district is working in conjunction with Phil Cameron, the executive director of Energy Conservation Works, to seek funding for these choices.
Any enhancements to a school facility — larger gyms and playgrounds, for example — must be acknowledged by not only the district, but also the Wyoming Facilities Commission.
Barker took four proposed enhancements to Munger Mountain to the commission in Gillette last week: pursuit of LEED gold standards, the potential for an underpass connecting the school to a pathway, $140,000 in playground enhancements to make Munger’s schoolyard equal to Davey Jackson and a placeholder in case the district needs more local funds to increase the size of the sewer line.
The School Facilities Commission acknowledged all four enhancements.
“There was a general agreement from the discussion during the commission meeting that pursuing cost-saving measures and energy-saving measures without going after certification was the prudent approach,” Barker said.
When finished, Barker said, Munger Mountain Elementary School will be up to LEED gold standards without the stamp of LEED gold certification approval. The school has also been designed to be positioned on the property to best take advantage of natural lighting.
Brendan Schulte, senior planner at Jorgensen Associates and former head of the Wyoming chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, says that pursuit of LEED gold standards is “a really good step.”
Schulte pointed out that with the Wyoming economy going through changes right now, he expects energy prices will go up — encouraging project teams across the state to consider energy-saving designs.
Jackson Elementary is LEED gold certified.
“An advantage to certification is that it verifies that things are done and keeps project teams accountable to what they committed up front,” Schulte said. “But I have faith they will do it in the right way [at Munger Mountain].”
Trustee Janine Teske, who has served on the school board for 18 years, told the News&Guide that SPET funds were used to pay for Davey Jackson’s LEED enhancements.
“It was a different time,” Barker said. “The revenue situation wasn’t the same as it is right now. Really, it’s just us taking a hard look at the cost and cost-savings over the life cycle of the building. We’ll go after increases in upfront cost to reap savings in the long run.”
School district trustees support these decisions, including Keith Gingery, who sponsored a bill requiring schools, and any new state buildings, to be LEED certified while he was a representative in the Wyoming legislature. The bill didn’t pass.
“I’m strongly in support of green building,” Gingery said. “We’re going to get as close to the standards as possible without making decisions that are bad practical decisions just to score some points.”
Gingery mentioned that money sitting in the county’s Energy Mitigation Program could potentially be used on any public building.
Budget cuts are playing a major role in the decision not to seek certification.
“We’re cognizant of limited funding,” board Chairwoman Patricia Russell said. “It’s great to pursue the standards, but considering it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to have a plaque on the playground, that is not the best use of funds. We have to be especially careful with all of our funds given the budget cuts.”
“We’re in tight financial times right now,” she said. “We’re blessed to be moving forward with this school. Would a plaque be a good use of taxpayers’ money? I don’t think so.”