Construction, Education, and Sustainability

University wins silver for $1.7M construction project

October 23, 2014
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University wins silver for $1.7M construction project
The Lee Honors College at WMU is home to more than 1,700 "high-achieving students" studying programs across each of the school's seven academic colleges. Courtesy WMU

A university in the region has cut the energy usage at its honors college by 50 percent after a $1.7-million renovation and expansion project that earned the school its latest LEED certification.

Western Michigan University said last month that its Lee Honors College has earned a LEED Silver certification from the United States Green Building Council.

The building is WMU’s tenth LEED-certified building.

The project

The construction project included a 2,500-square-foot addition to the Lee Honors College and modifications to existing amenities in the original building, which was completed in 2012.

The project featured several improvements: additional classrooms; a library; student lounge; technology learning labs; and low-flow plumbing.

“We did a brief energy analysis on the existing building and found there were great opportunities to do something with the footprint of the building and then proceeded to add both the modifications to the existing building and the addition to be blended into more of an energy project and addition,” said Peter Strazdas, associate vice president for facilities management, WMU. “We had every intention of the addition being silver, and as it turned out, we melded the entire project into a LEED Silver project.”

In order to achieve a LEED Silver certification, the design, construction and operation of the facility has to meet various sustainability standards: water and energy efficiency; resource selection; indoor environmental quality; and minimal impact on ecosystems; and more.

Operational savings

As a result of the sustainable design and modifications, the Lee Honors College has reduced energy usage by more than 50 percent, even with the 2,500-square-foot addition.

The sustainable project yielded several key outcomes for WMU: 30 percent reduction of portable water usage due to low-flow plumbing; 69 percent drop in irrigation water usage due to native plant species used surrounding the building; and more than 97 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills through reuse or recycling.

“There are ways you can invest money into a building, and we take a look at that as an investment versus an expense, and so we make that investment, because we see a return,” Strazdas said. “When you have a building you put a small addition on and you can reduce the energy consumption by 50 percent, that, of course, is an investment versus expense, because over time, that would lower operating cost.”

With the LEED designation for the Lee Honors College, Strazdas said it certainly validates the university’s investment in the project.

“In order to achieve the LEED certification, we take the principles of LEED, deploy it into the project as an investment and then there is a small expense in order to go through the certification process,” Strazdas said. “We feel it is important to have that as a validation step in the process to tell us that we have done everything that we say we were going to do.”


WMU worked with TowerPinkster in Kalamazoo to address the design modifications needed to pursue a LEED certification.

Frederick Construction in Vicksburg served as the contractor.


Strazdas said the driving force of the project was a donation given to the university to construct a small addition to the Lee Honors College.

The university received $1.1 million in private funding from Carl and Winifred Lee, who originally donated $500,000 for the building of the honors college when it was initially constructed.

The school combined the donation with financial resources allocated from its green revolving fund.

Sustainable campus

WMU is also pursuing LEED certifications for 10 other facilities on campus, with the hope of achieving a sustainable designation for a total of 20 buildings.

Through the leadership of John Dunn, president of WMU, Strazdas said the university has a requirement to achieve a minimum benchmark designation of a LEED Silver certification to fulfill an overall vision of a more sustainable campus.

“This whole concept of our capital projects and our renovations following LEED certification, and the LEED processes, feed into the greater vision of a more sustainable campus,” Strazdas said.

Academically, the university is working on developing a graduate class for students to earn LEED credentialing in collaboration with the Green Building Council.

WMU has also been awarded a gold level under the STARS program, which is the sustainable tracking assessment and rating system for colleges and universities for sustainability performance.

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