An increasing number of districts and campuses require LEED certification for major construction projects. In addition, some academic institutions require LEED equivalency but not certification, and others have developed their own sustainable building guidelines.

But many institutions still object to LEED certification because they believe it will cost more to construct and certify. Research indicates that LEED-certified projects may come in under budget (like other well-managed projects)—or may cost 1 to 2 percent more. These additional costs may be partially or fully recouped in lower operating and maintenance costs over the life cycle of the building or through energy efficiencies.

The cost of LEED registration and certification averages $2,000 per project, according to a recent study, "To LEED or Not to LEED—A Review of Green Policies in Higher Education," by Karl E. Knapp and Christina Liebner. In addition, estimates of internal and consultant costs range from $50,000 to $100,000 per LEED building.

Regardless of these additional costs, managing construction to keep spending in check on a LEED-registered building requires strategies similar to those used to manage any other education construction project.

What drives costs?

The major factors driving construction costs—LEED-registered projects included—are the total volume and size of a new project, the existing construction market, geographic area and climate, and intended use and programming of the building. In addition, facilities need to meet current and future needs; therefore, flexibility and expandability often are crucial and must be considered in terms of present and future costs.

In an ideal scenario, a project team designs and builds flexibility and expandability into a building without increasing its footprint or volume. Incorporating multiuse spaces is an example of this. Achieving these goals also may entail increasing the size of building systems or extending utilities to accommodate future growth. Although these solutions tend to increase initial capital costs, they usually are a cost-effective way to reduce the future cost of a multi-phase expansion—if the education institution has the financial capability to make the additional upfront investment.

Green strategies

A project team experienced in the planning, design and construction of the specific type of academic facility should be able to effectively manage costs. If an institution is going to seek LEED certification, it is essential to commit to that goal at the outset to avoid costly redesign work. Select a project team that is experienced in the pertinent LEED certification rating system and process. The team also should include at least one LEED-accredited professional.

The construction manager will be directly responsible for earning several LEED credits pertaining to construction planning and activities. In addition, the contractor will be responsible for documenting about 25 percent of the total LEED credits. Therefore, it is essential to select a construction manager experienced with LEED certification of education facilities.

In today’s economy, it is a buyer’s construction market. This is good news for education institutions with projects in the design phase. That said, it is essential for an institution to select a contractor with the procurement experience and qualification procedures in place to select well-qualified bidders—not merely the low bidders.