Green Design Competition Will
Renew Comprenew

January 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The old building that houses Comprenew Environmental will be renovated to LEED Platinum certification standards as part of the local U.S. Green Building Council’s first annual design contest.

Teams of architectural design students from several Michigan universities will get hands-on experience in sustainable design as they create a redesign of the Comprenew facility in the 2007 Natural Talent Design competition held by the West Michigan chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council. The competition kicked off Wednesday evening at Comprenew’s headquarters at

629 Ionia Ave. SW.

Each team will begin with the same site plan and let green building principles be their guide. They’ll have 10 weeks to complete their projects, so the cutoff for participation won’t be for another week or so, said Sam Pobst, chairman of the West Michigan chapter of USGBC.

The competition is open to any university in Michigan and to individuals who are recent architectural design graduates. Fourteen universities had expressed interest in the project and, of those, five were on board as of Wednesday, including Kendall College of Art and Design, FerrisStateUniversity, Lawrence University, Michigan Tech and AndrewsUniversity. Two individuals are also in the competition.

Under the LEEDGreenBuilding rating system, credits are earned for satisfying specific criteria. Points are given in five major categories: indoor environmental quality, sustainable sites, materials and resources, water efficiency, and energy and atmosphere.

“What they have found in past competitions is that everybody shoots for LEED Platinum-level certification,” Pobst said. “We assume everybody is going to submit based on a Platinum level, but how they get there will be the key.”

Comprenew Environmental was one of three applicants that vied for the redesign opportunity. Pobst referred to Comprenew as “the epitome of the triple bottom line.”

Comprenew is a nonprofit that recycles unwanted and unused computers and parts. The organization helps inner-city high school students gain employment aptitude and work experience in refurbishing and recycling computer hardware, then turns the repaired hardware over to the community for use in schools and nonprofits.

“We want the public schools to use what we do as an educational tool, as a way to enhance classroom learning and to provide meaningful job training for high school students,” said Lynell Shooks, director of business development for Comprenew.

“This organization is all about sustainability and it teaches sustainability,” said Mayor George Heartwell. Heartwell underscored the fact that Grand Rapids has more LEED-certified buildings per capita than any other city in the nation.

“We have a tremendous capacity. We’ve got the design capacity; we’ve got the will. I believe we’re developing a culture of sustainability where owners, builders, designers and end users of buildings appreciate the value of environmentally sensitive buildings.”

The Comprenew facility was built in the 1970s. Pobst said one of the major challenges of the project is the fact that it’s a building renovation rather than new construction. Design teams will follow the LEED for Existing Buildings design protocol, which is somewhat different from LEED for new construction, he noted.

Pobst said that judging by past competitions staged by USGBC chapters in other states, even though the teams work with the same site plan, they tend to come up with designs very different from one another.

“That’s what’s so exciting. These kids are so creative,” Pobst said. “We’ve all been trained in certain ways, but the students don’t know the boundaries, so we get really dynamic designs from the teams. It’s just amazing how different the designs can all be.”

University team entries will be judged in mid-April, followed by an award ceremony April 24. The winning team or individual from Michigan will receive $5,000 and a trip to Greenbuild 2007 in Los Angeles to compete at the national level for a first prize of $10,000. The cash awards are generated by event sponsors.    

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