There’s a green building revolution occurring on Minnesota’s colleges and universities.
The revolution isn’t defined by quantity — there are only three buildings so far, all of them still under construction — but by intent.
Out go the anonymous monoliths that students pass in and out of for four years and immediately forget. In come smartly designed, memorable structures, along with a new mission statement: On the campuses of tomorrow, even the buildings have something to teach.
Macalester College broke ground last month on its Institute for Global Citizenship, which will open in fall 2009 and aims for the coveted LEED platinum certification, and St. Olaf College plans to open a new science complex this fall with a gold certification. Over at the University of Minnesota, administrators plan to seek LEED certification for the new football stadium when it opens in 2009.
“We’re about education, we’re always trying to learn more about what we’re doing,” said David Wheaton, Macalester College’s vice president for administration and finance. “This is a way to not only consider what goes on in science laboratory, but it’s a way to take it out of the classroom.”
A quick aside for background. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a certification program run by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, and recognized as setting some of the strictest requirements in the country for green building. There are four certification tiers — certified, silver, gold and platinum — depending on how energy-efficient and sustainable the building’s systems and materials are.
Not just the bottom line
Colleges, just like companies and private homebuilders, are interested in the attractive bottom line of energy efficiency.
Adhering to sustainable specs can add significant costs to a building but in the long run can save money. Macalester will spend $500,000 and $750,000 more than if it had opted for conventional design, Wheaton said, yet the building is expected to use a whopping 75 percent less energy and 40 percent less water than similar-sized buildings on Macalester’s campus.
But colleges are interested in more than that. In these energy-conscious times, buildings are as much a part of a college’s public image as students-per-class statistics or research commendations.
For Macalester and St. Olaf, the soon-to-be-completed green buildings show that the colleges are aware of and nimble enough to adapt to a rapidly changing world — a trait they promote their students and graduates as having. And they demonstrate that the schools are committed to the education and sustainability of the community in which they participate.
St. Olaf, for instance, has adopted an extensive set of facility planning guidelines that advocate using everything from recycled concrete to low-water toilets. Macalester’s building sits at one of the busiest intersections in the Twin Cities — Grand and Snelling avenues — and the college plans to use signs and other means to educate passerby and neighborhood residents about the intricacies and importance of green building.
“We talk a lot about environmentalism and sustainable things on campus,” Wheaton said. “To the extent that it’s a part of our value set, our persona, we want the college’s operation to reflect it.”
Lastly, and maybe where the real revolution lies, green buildings give colleges one more opportunity: To teach sustainability to students about to enter, participate in, and lead a global community buzzing about climate change, peak oil and the necessity of building a more sustainable world.