There is no longer any justification not to build green schools, a panel of school attorneys told attendees of NSBA’s Council of School Attorneys School Law Seminar on Friday.
A 2006 “Greening America’s Schools” report found that “green schools cost less than 2 percent more than regular construction to build, said Randy Parent, a lawyer with the Liebert Cassidy and Whitmore firm in San Francisco, which specializes in construction and business issues.
But consider this: the financial benefits gained from building green are, over a 20-year period, 20 times greater than the cost of green elements.
“For the average school, building green would save enough each year to pay for one full-time teacher,” Parent said. Studies have shown that improved daylighting, indoor air quality, heating and cooling, and the overall environment has increased student test scores, he added.
The three-person panel showed numerous examples of schools that had achieved the highest standards of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, which is administered by the U.S. Green Building Council.
Many of the schools had sustainable features such as solar panels, radiant heating and cooling systems, and rainwater harvesting systems. One school in Hawaii, for instance, has a traditional steeply pitched Lanai roof that catches prevailing winds from nearby mountains to cool the facility, and it only uses 30 percent of energy it generates, said panelist Eileen O’Hare-Anderson.
Most of the school construction projects used local, recycles, and/or renewable materials and recycled nearly all of the construction materialsboth requirements to attain the maximum number of points in the LEED 100-point ranking system.
The panelists also discussed lessons learned and potential litigation areas.
Parent highlighted an Oregon middle school that had achieved one of the highest LEED scores for schools across the country. However, the school used a custom-designed skylight that didn’t work as designed. “My advice is try and use systems that have been used somewhere else, and manufactured commercially,” he said.
“Green construction is on the relatively new side, so there really aren’t many cases to talk about,” said Chris Fallon, another associate at the firm. He cited one condo construction project where the builder was required to build a LEED-certified project by a certain date in order for the developer to claim a tax credit. After the project was delayed, and the owner missed the tax credit, the owner sued the builder. The case was settled out of court, so a court verdict was not attained.
Fallon advised that contracts need state specific goals and consequences. For instance, if a school district or owner would be eligible to receive tax credits, it should state that if those credits are not attainable the builder would be held liable for the expense of those lost tax credits.
“You must be clear on the owners’ intentions,” Fallon said.
In another case now before the U.S. District court for the Southern District of New York, a non-LEED certified contractor claims the USGBC is using false advertising, deceptive trade practices, and it has been misrepresenting energy efficiency of buildings but cannot prove energy savings. As a result, the contractor is losing business to LEED-certified contractors.
“It will be very interesting to see if the US District court in New York will hear this case,” Fallon said.
Another pending lawsuit addresses a home builder who promised the owner that a building would be LEED certified, but it did not meet the standard.
“School districts don’t seem to have any liability for LEED products, if anything the school district would be the plaintiff against a contractor, “We don’t foresee any problems for school districts looking to build green.”
His final advice: Schools should do a good cost analysis of the cost put into these buildings versus the payback, as a few school districts have found that new and speculative practices have not lived up to their savings claims.