O-A-K Co. Early LEEDer

April 25, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Owen-Ames-Kimball Co. will be honored Friday evening.

The Michigan Society of the American Institute of Architects has named CountrysideElementary School in the Byron Center Public School System as a recipient of a 2005 Building Award, one of only nine to be handed out statewide in the 2005 Honor Awards Program.

O-A-K managed the construction of the K-4 school that was built on sustainable design principles. The 70,000-square-foot school at

8200 Eastern Ave.
was constructed with recyclable materials wherever possible and was situated on the property in a manner that respects the natural surroundings.

“The district is working with MSU to set up a science curriculum that will use the site, and there is a working windmill and a fish pond near the building. They will use that windmill to educate students on alternative power,” said Brad McAvoy, director of engineering services at O-A-K.

“It was a pretty neat project,” he added.

But it certainly wasn’t the first project of its type for the company.

O-A-K became involved in green building in 1994, years before the LEED criteria were developed, and managed the construction of two of the region’s most notable sustainable projects.

One was the Herman Miller GreenHouse manufacturing plant, a 293,000-square-foot facility that makes, tests and assembles work chairs. The building’s lighting specifications meet and exceed guidelines for energy efficiency. The plant produces only 16 pounds of waste each workday, as 97 percent of its solid waste is recycled. It was built in 1996.

“It was kind of a pre-LEED building, but it was on the cutting edge of its time. They used the guidelines that we have now on buildings,” said McAvoy, who served manager for the project.

“They’ve done a lot with the site, too. They’ve added natural wildflowers and buffalo grass. They have a series of different ponds that handle the water runoff, and the runoff gets cleaner as it gets downstream.”

The previously twice-honored building won another award recently as the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality named it a Clean Corporate Citizen last month.

“This company is an example of our ideal of having a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand-in-hand,” DEQ Director Steven Chester said of Herman Miller.

O-A-K also designed and built the 600,000-square-foot Steelcase Wood Plant in GainesTownship four years ago. The Wood Plant is the largest manufacturing building to receive LEED certification.

O-A-K is working on a few other projects that will seek LEED certification, including a library in Hastings and a new office building for UFCW Local 951.

Even with sustainable construction on the rise in the region, not all building owners who follow environmentally friendly blueprints go after the LEED label for their structures. The main reason for that is it costs more to go LEED.

An owner has to pay a fee up front and then can expect a bigger tab from an architect and builder because both have to put more time into a LEED project than one that isn’t seeking that designation, like the CountrysideElementary School.

“That was not a LEED-certified project. It was what we call a green project. We talked with ByronCenter schools about the LEED certification and whether it was something they wanted to proceed with. It was a tough call for them,” said McAvoy.

School officials wrestled over whether to use taxpayer dollars for the process before deciding not to. McAvoy said officials felt they had a responsibility to the public to build the school the way they did regardless of LEED, and they also felt the tax dollars could be better spent in other areas.

O-A-K has been building since 1891. The firm does commercial construction, historic renovations, design-and-build projects and engineering work.

McAvoy said West Michigan was a better area than most across the nation for LEED work and felt more would be done here in the future.

“The more and more contractors and subcontractors are exposed to it, it becomes easier to promote and to follow through on, because you’re not educating everyone every time you go through a project,” said McAvoy.

“Even on down the line, the companies that manufacture the products that are used on the job are now exposed to this. They’re conscious of green products and how it impacts their marketing. Every year you see more and more suppliers who are aware of this.”    

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