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Seven years in, does LEED’s tool for LEED for multiple buildings and on-campus building projects meet the market’s needs? Elizabeth Powers, CSBA, LEED AP BD+C, ID+C Responds.

ElizabethPowers-webSince LEED was launched by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) our firm has encountered many projects interested in using the LEED Rating System but not quite fitting into the LEED mold. Over time O’Brien & Company has worked with our clients to ease these projects through the LEED process. Although some of the solutions we came up with could be deemed “elegant,” there were a few project types that required quite a bit of heavy lifting, and where frankly, it felt like we were using the proverbial shoe-horn.

Of the latter, the most common situation we faced was a project that included multiple buildings or was a single building on some sort of larger site with a shared management or ownership structure.

First Generation Solution

The first tool that came out to help with these situations was the LEED Application Guide for Multiple Buildings and On-Campus Building Projects (AGMBC), 2005 version, generally referred to as the LEED for Campus’ guide. This tool didn’t have much infrastructure behind it and it was unclear how to implement the structures provided within it. Thus it was not widely used. However, along with some Credit Interpretation Rulings, the AGMBC did set up some basic ground rules on how to deal with multiple building and buildings within campus settings.

Thornton PlaceTeams were able to use these concepts to certify multiple building projects under a single certification, or to apply campus wide resources, such as a central stormwater management system, or shared parking to a single building project. For example, the North Seattle Thornton Place project, which consisted of an apartment building, a condo building, and some retail, all over a single subterranean parking podium, was certified LEED-NC Silver under a single certification. (This project is also completing a LEED ND application under the pilot program.) And we recently dealt with a new building on a campus where they had just recently built a new parking garage. We allocated the campus parking across all the buildings on campus, including the new one and then added enough low-emitting parking stalls to earn a point for providing 5% of the parking for the new building (the campus actually added more, but we left the additional stalls available for other LEED projects on campus.

Getting Closer

The launch of LEEDv3 in 2009 promised a new version of the AGMBC and rolled a new series of minimum program requirements (MPRs) that resulted in defining LEED as applicable to only one building, unless you follow the AGMBC. Not many people realize this yet, but it has come up on many projects. If we did Thornton Place today, it would have been certified as 3 projects in a multiple building complex. The details of how this was to work were to be spelled out in the new AGMBC. Part 1 of the updated AGMBC came out in the fall of 2010 with an extensive new infrastructure in LEED Online v3 (LOV3) to support it.

PACCAR HallPart 1 addressed situations where one had several different buildings on a campus setting and wanted to apply some campus-wide programs and resources such as parking, stormwater, purchasing or cleaning programs to each building. Although the system made a new bucket for all these campus credits to be reviewed simultaneously, it also resulted in additional process steps and fees. For campuses with lots of buildings and many shared resources this is a great option and actually save money even with the added fees. It allows a school itself to document, all at once and in advance, a good number of points for all future LEED projects (within the same rating system version, e.g. 2009). The project teams for those LEED projects can take credit for those credits and receive a discount on review of their project. This summer, the University of Washington compiled a set of campus credits for all the upcoming LEED 2009 projects and has submitted them for review. (In a side note, Huskies can be proud the UW was named #1 in “America’s Coolest Schools” in 2011 by the Sierra Club — in part because of the number of LEED certified buildings.) For organizations like the UW, Part 1 of the AGMBC provides a great new tool.

On the other hand, for our projects with a few distinct buildings being built all at once on a single larger site, the new rules and the AGMBC process have mostly provided an added set of complications by requiring each building to earn its own certification and complete a new process if they want to take credit for comprehensive project planning. To illustrate, clients for a new small school campus we are working with have been frustrated because the campus hasn’t been able to earn a single plaque for their project. And LEED for Neighborhood developments doesn’t offer a solution, as it doesn’t substantially address building design or really these types of campuses as they lack typical features of a neighborhood, such as housing and community amenities.

Part 2 of the AGMBC promised a pathway for a single certification: “Part 2 will contain guidance to help project teams certify a group of projects as a package where the entire project set will receive a single rating. These projects may constitute an entire campus or be a subset of an existing campus.” Part 2 was due out in 2011. O’Brien & Company and several of our projects waited patiently throughout the year to see if it could ease what seemed a burdensome new pathway.

Closer Still, But A Ways to Go

Finally, Part 2 came out almost the last day in October 2011, and, in my opinion, fell flat. The much anticipated innovation is the group certification, which basically allows a project with a number of identical buildings to receive certification for that group. In our experience, projects hoping for a single certification may have some buildings that are identical, such as two or three high-rise residential buildings, but always have several other buildings that are substantially different, such as a conference center or a fitness facility. It is also unclear just how different buildings can be and still be in a group. If similar buildings pursue divergent pathways for a prerequisite or credit, such as having central mechanical ventilation in one, and individual room natural ventilation in the other, it still seems multiple certifications will be needed. We have an administrative request into the GBCI on behalf of our clients, so we may learn things are bit better than we are currently interpreting.

Another challenge is that no infrastructure or fee structure was launched with Part 2 for group certification– that’s due in 2012. For projects that the group certification significantly benefits, that means it will have been three years since the launch of LEED 2009 and seven years since the launch of the AGMBC before the best tools for their projects are available.

There are many good reasons for the changes and tools that the USGBC has introduced for certifying multiple buildings and campuses. Some of those primarily benefit the organization in ease of administration and cost control (which could be seen to benefit USGBC members), others provide clarity and consistency in the application of the LEED Rating System which will be helpful to the market and projects considering LEED in the future. Therefore, I’m not disappointed to see the USGBC actively addressing the issue of multiple buildings and campuses, but I believe that there is still a fair sized gap in best servicing this significant building project type. I’ll keep you posted if we unearth some hidden benefits of the new AGMBC systems that change my mind.

Elizabeth Powers, CSBA and LEED AP (multiple specialties) is principal and part owner of O’Brien & Company, the oldest green building consultancy in the Northwest. She leads the firm’s consulting team serving non-residential green building projects and is a regular contributor to the Building Capacity Blog.

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