State Representative Nathan Reichert of Muscatine was featured on essentialestrogen.com talking about environmental efforts passed during the 2007 legislative session.  From the Iowa Climate Change Advisory Council to the Energy City Designation Program to the Iowa Power Fund and Energy Independence Plan, 2007 was a great year for the environment.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette also ran a front page story Monday about construction of new energy efficient buildings in Iowa.  The story cites several examples of business and schools designed to reduce the impact on our environment and save money on energy costs.

Green movement is changing design
By David DeWitte, The Gazette

Car shoppers have been gazing for years at little yellow Environmental Protection Agency mileage estimate stickers that indicate the kind of fuel economy you might expect from driving a particular model of car.

Ever notice that the mileage you got on your latest car wasn’t quite what the sticker indicated?

Now imagine if you could design your own car to achieve the level of fuel economy you sought and later work with the EPA to certify that the car met your objectives.

That’s the kind of validation a growing number of building owners are seeking in Eastern Iowa through a certification program called LEED, for Leader in Energy and Environmental Design.

Organized by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED certification uses a point system to score the construction of buildings on the basis of their energy efficiency, health and impact on the environment. Applicants must submit extensive documentation that the building was constructed as represented on the LEED application.

LEED and the green movement are changing the way Eastern Iowa architects design buildings, according to Kevin Monson, president of Neumann-Monson Architects in Iowa City, and Iowa president of the American Institute of Architects.

Monson is one of the pioneering green architects in Iowa. He designed, among other things, the state’s first LEED-certified public school in Coralville, the James Van Allen Elementary School.

Monson said energy consumed by buildings creates more greenhouse gases than are used for transportation.

Yet for many years, architects worried only about whether their projects were buildable, functional and aesthetically pleasing.

“Now we’re expanding that to be good citizens as far as the environment,” Monson said. “They have to be healthy, and they have to be sustainable.” Monson and his firm have designed several green schools, a green police station for Davenport, a green boat house for the University of Iowa and a green data center for ACT Inc. They are working on green designs for several churches and a sorority that also could become LEEDcertified. One of the churches and the sorority house would replace structures destroyed by the April 2006 tornado in Iowa City.

Green building activity also is picking up in Cedar Rapids.

Rockwell Collins completed its first building seeking LEED certification late last year and has begun work on a second green building that will not seek LEED certification.

AEGON USA is planning a green child-care center in Cedar Rapids, and Involta is planning a green data center in Marion. So many LEED and green projects are under way that it would be virtually impossible to mention them all.

“It’s a wave overtaking the whole industry,” said Tom Amosson, president of Merit Construction Co., Cedar Rapids.

Applicants apply for a specific level of LEED certification, which varies with the points they are able to achieve. From 26 to 32 points, a building is simply certified.

Above that, the building can achieve the ranks of silver, gold and platinum.

Demand for LEED and other green buildings is no longer contingent simply on a fast financial payback from energy savings. Increasingly, Monson said, companies are building green because they consider it an ethical imperative.

“Our goal was to build a green building, because that’s the right thing to do,” said Tom Gentner, Rockwell Collins director of environment, safety and health operations.

“It’s in our policies. It’s the right thing to do for our society, our employees, our cus tomers and our business.” Still, companies have to find a way to make the numbers work. Initial estimates for Rockwell Collins’ first green building were $130 per square foot and an 18-month development timetable. Those estimates were flatly rejected as incompatible with the company’s needs.

A project team that included Ryan Companies USA, OPN Architects and M2B Structural Engineers went back to the drawing board.

They beat the initial estimates partly by going with a prefabricated steel building engineered to high environmental specifications, and by building a steam pipeline to an adjacent building, where an existing boiler was operating below peak efficiency because all of its output wasn’t needed. “We were able to heat this building with almost no net increase in energy consumption,” Gentner said.

Over the 40-year life of the building, Rockwell Collins expects to save at least $2.5 million in energy costs by building green, Gentner said, and that’s assuming energy prices don’t increase. Many experts believe energy prices will rise dramatically over the next decade.

Like many LEED projects, the Rockwell building required a waiver of building codes. The case in point was waterless urinals, which aren’t allowed under Cedar Rapids code. The city is considering the Rockwell waiver a trial period.

Working in a green building is often a different experience because of the high air quality, increased use of sunlight and outdoor vistas.

Students at the Willowwind School in Iowa City, who moved into a green building created from a former Moose Lodge, found lots of sunlight and temperatures that vary little throughout the day.

“The natural light enhances learning,” said Susan Smith, who oversees the school and its 62 students.

Contact the writer: (319) 398-8317 or david.dewitte@gazettecommunications.com