Green building is embraced by a state with plentiful resources and conservative voters. Does this signal a tipping point?

Green building is embraced by a state with plentiful resources and conservative voters. Does this signal a tipping point?

The Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC) administers a $4.3 billion program aimed at bringing Ohio’s K-12 public schools up to contemporary standards. At a regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 27, 2007, the commission passed a motion that signaled a huge change for Ohio: adoption of LEED Silver certification as the standard for all future public K-12 school construction it supported.

Ohio is not typically considered a green state by most measures. So how did this sudden change occur whereby it embraced the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System? And even more to the point, how will this measure be achieved?

In January 2007 in one of his first executive orders, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland set the standard for all state agencies: Undertake efforts to reduce the use of carbon/fossil fuels. Public buildings were included in this directive, and so the OSFC began looking for ways to meet new goals. Franklin Brown, AIA, a member of the OSFC staff leadership, worked with OSFC Director Mike Shoemaker to develop a LEED-based approach to meeting the challenge, ultimately resulting in the adoption of the Silver standard for approximately $4.3 billion worth of new school construction and renovations across the state. These projects, totaling more than 250 buildings, are targeted for completion over the next three to four years, quite a challenge in itself.

Implementation is the most challenging part of change, and this program is no exception. Few private or public LEED projects have been completed in Ohio; therefore, there has not been a significant demand on designers to be prepared to execute designs incorporating LEED standards. In fact, according to the U.S. Green Building Council, there were eight LEED-certified projects in Ohio in 2006, none of which were schools.

Training has become a high priority in moving this initiative forward, as has identifying experts to share real-life experiences with the local design community. The design guidelines used in the OSFC program had to be modified to reflect more emphasis on sustainable design, as well. That was done prior to the adoption of the new standards.

For our part, SHP Leading Design brought in John Boecker, AIA, and Mike Niklaus, AIA, along with members of Architectural Energy Corp. of Denver to develop these modifications to the standards and to consider how to move forward with the Ohio design community. For example, SHP shared responsibility with Boecker to demonstrate and model an “eco-charette” on an SHP project. We are now in the process of rolling out programs across the state to educate owners, construction industry professionals, and designers about the program’s requirements, its benefits, and the changes required to meet the new set of goals. This will take time, of course, and in the meanwhile, the OSFC wants to get every possible LEED point underway, with emphasis on those that will yield energy savings.

At the time of the program’s adoption, many school building projects were already underway that were not LEED-friendly. In these cases, the project plans are being reviewed to see if it’s feasible to convert to LEED requirements. The OSFC will provide added funding for a LEED program, but in some situations, it is difficult to determine if that additional funding can cover the costs of redesign and delays implicit in changing after original designs are virtually completed.

SHP was fortunate in being well along the sustainable design path at the time the rule was adopted. In fact, the Board of Directors had adopted the 2030 Challenge as firm policy in 2006. For the past three years, SHP has had an incentive program for all design professionals to gain their LEED-accredited professional status, which has produced nearly 60 LEED APs as of this writing. The goal is that everyone who is involved in design at the firm will be LEED AP. But even this preparation did not protect us from difficulties with funding, schedules, and commitment of the school districts. In addition, many in the construction and construction management community are unprepared for important roles they have to play in order to keep the LEED process moving. SHP has provided training for some of these entities in order to make projects go more smoothly.

On another front, some skepticism remains with school board members and others who question claims of healthier environments, lower energy costs, and other benefits that arise from sustainable design. And debate about the science that supports the theory of man-made global warming continues. But we are making progress. SHP alone has 16 new school buildings registered and one about to come on line. There are many other projects underway across the state as well. We hope that the results will prove the value of sustainable design and make it easier in the future for all such projects to move forward.

Where there is change, there are enormous challenges in implementation. In Ohio, I suspect we have not yet fully realized the demands to be placed upon the design and construction communities. It will take time, commitment, and faith that the state will provide the necessary support. The story has only begun to unfold.

Bottom line: If sustainable design support is happening in Ohio, where water is plentiful, resources are generally available, the population is somewhat conservative, and the climate is not extreme, we have reached or are very near the tipping point when the majority of American municipalities see the benefits of making an investment in sustainable design.

Gerry Hammond is president and chief executive officer of SHP Leading Design (formerly Steed Hammond Paul), which has a focus on public and private education. He co-authored a book on a total quality management approach to community engagement titled The Schoolhouse of Quality. Hammond is a member of the Design Futures Council Executive Board and the Ohio Architect’s Board.