City Takes The Lead In LEED

February 10, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — City commissioners showed they understood the significance of sustainability in the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of buildings when they recently ratified a policy that sets such standards for city-owned structures.

“It’s not easy being green and sometimes it’s expensive,” said Rick Tormala, 2nd Ward city commissioner, as he paraphrased Kermit the Frog while approving the measure.

And if being green is expensive for the city, it’s also costly for developers.

But Mayor George Heartwell, who was the driving force behind the sustainability policy, is working to develop an incentive program that would reduce that cost for developers and entice them to go for the green.

“The next step in this process will be to develop incentives for developers to build green,” said Heartwell. “There is still a cost differential. It’s still more costly to build an environmentally sustainable building — not necessarily more costly when you look at the lifecycle costs of a building, when you factor those in. But still, up front, you’re going to pay more for a LEED-certified building.

“If I can find way to help reduce that cost through some municipal incentives, I will do that.”

The policy emerged from Heartwell’s 2005 State of the City address, and commissioners recently passed it unanimously. The policy aligns itself with the national one issued by the U.S. Green Building Council and is known to architects and builders as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system.

“It puts the city out in front saying, ‘We’re going to walk the talk,’” said Heartwell of why the city adopted the policy.

“Every time a developer comes in front of me, I always ask about whether they’re going to build their buildings LEED certified. I had two opportunities to do that last night on two different projects. And if I can say, ‘Your city is committed to this, we’re modeling it,’ I think I’ve got pull or clout as I’m dealing with those developers,” he added.

The city’s policy promotes energy-saving heating, cooling and lighting systems for buildings, waste reduction, a pursuit of alternative energies, and the use of construction materials that are friendly to the environment.

“This policy encourages us to manage our facilities from a position of sustainability,” said Assistant City Manager Greg Sundstrom.

In a nutshell, the policy does three things:

**It instructs city staff to follow LEED principles in managing city-owned buildings.

**It requires that all new construction and rehabilitation projects consider appropriate LEED principles in a design through a cost-benefit analysis.

**It requires all new construction and renovation projects larger than 10,000 square feet and costing $1 million or more to build to obtain LEED certification.

Two years ago, the U.S. Green Building Council recognized the water department’s administration building as being the first LEED-certified municipal building in the state.

“Grand Rapids has more LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other city in the country, and I think that is important,” said Heartwell. “It fits in line with my vision for an environmentally sustainable economy.”     

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