Pivotal meeting for LEED certification for new residence hall to be held

By Jessica Ng '15
SAS Sustainability Chair

The Oct. 10 Board of Trustees meeting signals a turning point for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of the new Scripps residence hall. Higher sustainability standards and certification will become increasingly difficult after the meeting if the Buildings and Grounds Committee advances construction plans and the Finance Committee approves a budget without those considerations. Scripps has the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability through both construction and certification of the residence hall. However, the Board has been hesitant about LEED certification in past discussions, and student support will be crucial — though by no means a guarantee — to build and certify beyond the basic level of sustainability.
LEED is a green certification system with four tiers: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum, in ascending order. Despite criticism of its methods and effects, LEED remains a widely recognized marker of sustainable building; each of the other 5Cs has at least one LEED Silver or above certified building, and several California cities require new buildings to be built to Gold standards. As of fall 2012, the Board of Trustees planned to satisfy LEED Silver requirements comparable to California building code standards but did not plan to pursue certification.
Campus-wide discussion of LEED peaked two years ago and has since subsided as other issues occupied the attention of both students and the Board. In Oct. 2012, 91 percent of 230 student respondents to a SAS survey agreed or strongly agreed that “achieving LEED Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification for the new residence hall should be a priority for Scripps College.”
Nevertheless, the Board of Trustees did not commit to LEED certification at any level, nor did they commit to LEED Gold standards or above.
In response, students petitioned the Board to build to Gold standards, and SAS organized a panel in December with administrators, architects, and sustainability specialists. President Lori Bettison-Varga and former Treasurer Joanne Coville cited funding as the primary barrier to higher standards and certification. Through spring 2013, a student group sought to establish an endowment for sustainable building which could support higher LEED standards and certification. This effort ended over summer 2013 when contact with the Office of Institutional Advancement broke off.
At the time of the petition and panel, the building was estimated to cost $15 million; building and certifying to LEED Gold standards would add an estimated $0.5 million, and Platinum would add about $1.5 million. LEED specialists at the panel, however, contested these numbers, suggesting that actual costs would be significantly less. The planned building capacity has since been reduced, and members of the Sustainability Committee are acquiring updated information about building features and costs.As your Sustainability Chair, I am excited to reopen the conversation about LEED and to push for sustainability in the new residence hall. I urge you to learn about LEED at Scripps, starting with resources on the SAS website (sas.scrippscollege.edu); to contact your Board of Trustees representatives listed on the SAS website; and to join the discussion at a SAS BeHeard Forum on Tuesday, October 7 at 8:30 PM in the Student Union.