Group promotes green building

Group promotes green building

CHAMPAIGN – Build green, they say.

Sounds a bit new world-ish, perhaps a bit Buckminster Fuller for central Illinois, or for a construction industry that tends toward the conservative side.

But that is the message being promoted by area design professionals now in the process of forming the Central Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

They are part and parcel of a new ethic taking hold in the construction industry, and by degrees, they say, in the Midwest. It is an ethic born of prudence, awareness of declining resources and last but not least, self-interest.

"You're going to get a better building that's cheaper to operate," said Alan Chalifoux, an engineer with ETA Engineering in downtown Champaign and a co-chair of the new Green Building Council chapter that will encompass the 217 and 309 area codes.

The chapter's primary purpose is to promote the LEED Green Building Council rating system, for "Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design." LEED standards represent a hierarchy of ratings, from silver to platinum, based on how extensively a project adheres to environmentally friendly design, construction and maintenance.

The standards were written with market forces as well as environmental quality in mind – not mutually exclusive goals, say advocates of the LEED ratings.

First issued in 2000, the ratings first took hold on the coasts and have quickly marched across the country. In Boston in November, Mayor Thomas Menino announced the city would adopt the LEED Silver rating for all city-owned building projects and amend its building code to require all large projects built in Boston be LEED certifiable.

In June, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley announced that all city projects would adhere to LEED certification, along with incentives for private industry to do so.

"The number of LEED-certified professionals, LEED-certified buildings, agencies and institutions ... it's growing exponentially," Chalifoux said.

In this area, the chapter includes architects, engineers and other design professionals locally as well as from Springfield, Peoria and other larger towns. Like the national council, they hope to include representatives from across the spectrum, from the building trades and material providers to public sector planners.

Chalifoux and others described the endorsement of the new standards in part as a backlash against cheap, inefficient construction that has permeated everything from housing and big-box stores with 20-year life expectancies to institutional construction such as the Champaign Public Library, whose obsolescence was clear from its opening in 1978.

"It's been down and dirty. This whole perspective is something else entirely," Chalifoux said.

En route to certification, points are awarded in 69 categories, for urban redevelopment, brownfield redevelopment, access to public transportation and bike routes, for maximization of open space, underground parking, for reducing light pollution, using recycled water systems, renewable energy, recycled construction materials, reuseable materials, local materials or wood from sustainable forests.

Points are given for ventilation efficiency, low-emitting sealants, paint and carpet, for daylight access to views for office workers, for rooftop gardens.

"It's more than slapping up some photovoltaic panels and installing high-efficiency windows," said Jean Ascoli, a University of Illinois architect working to incorporate many of those elements in the $53.5 million, 158,500-square-foot Business Instructional Facility.

That facility is being built as a beacon for environmental efficiency on a campus that has newly dedicated itself to environmental leadership in construction, maintenance, planning, parking, printing, safety, stores and waste transfer. The UI initiative, green in theory, is dubbed "Blue Illinois" for Building a Lasting University Environment.

"The university is making incredible progress in this area," Ascoli said. "We're raising the bar and people are receptive to it."

While the business building is certainly a high-water mark, the biggest difference will be seen in how the UI applies its remodeling funds that typically are the bulk of its capital budget.

"These ideas are clearly saving the UI and taxpayers money, and it's being done without net added cost," Ascoli said.

Two other LEED-certified projects are under way in the area.

One is the renovation of the New Holland Apartments in Danville, a 73,000-square-foot apartment building built in 1911, for Crosspoint Human Services. Chalifoux is the project engineer.

The other is Faith United Methodist Church in Champaign, which involves a 14,000-square-foot addition. Project engineer is Mark Gilbert of GHR Engineers & Associates of Champaign.

Chalifoux said goals such as reducing reliance on fossil fuels and other energy waste justify working for the LEED standards. But he argues there is a growing body of evidence to counter the widespread notion in the development industry that "green" construction is not kind to the bottom line.

An October 2003 report to California's Sustainable Building Task Force concluded that increases in upfront costs of about 2 percent for green design on average result in ultimate savings of 20 percent of total construction costs.

More information can be found at www.usgbc.org.

You can reach News-Gazette staff writer J. Philip Bloomer at (217) 351-5371 or via e-mail at pbloomer@news-gazette.com.

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