Taking the LEED Cooley campus receives award for going 'green'

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By Paul Janczewski
Legal News

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus, since its inception in 2008, has always been proud of the leadership role – or should that be LEED-ership – it has promoted in areas of growth, enrollment, diversity, and successful pass rates on the Michigan Bar examination, among other accomplishments.

And it just stuck another feather in its legal cap. John Nussbaumer, Cooley’s associate Dean at Auburn Hills, said the school recently was notified it has received LEED certification, and is believed to be the first and only law school in Michigan, and fourth in the nation, that is completely LEED certified.

To mark the occasion, a ceremony will be held at the campus at 2 p.m. on June 4, with Cooley President Don LeDuc and Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson as keynote speakers. Also attending the ceremony will be Auburn Hills Mayor Pro Tem Maureen Hammond, SHW Group Architects-Engineers, and Rockford Construction officials.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is one of many initiatives that addresses the push in the last decade by people and groups who are concerned about the environment. An internationally recognized environmental program used in more than two dozen countries, LEED provides a way to verify that a building, home, school, office or other facility was built and designed to improve energy savings, water efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and emissions reduction.

A rigorous verification system is used to determine if projects fall within LEED standards, and utilizes builders, developers and architects working in harmony to achieve certain levels of certification, provided those people are certified with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

Projects can be identified as certified, silver, gold and platinum, depending on how many LEED points it attains. The program is conducted by the U.S. Green Building Council, and also entails site development at the project and the use of materials.

Nussbaumer and R.J. Brennan, director of construction and renovations at Cooley Law School, said the law school began utilizing LEED standards and practices when the Auburn Hills campus was first purchased and opened following renovation in 2008, and continued through an addition to the facility the following year. Nussbaumer said William Schoettle, Cooley’s CFO and vice president for operations, and LeDuc were all for going as green as possible from day one at the Auburn Hills campus.

“Every aspect of building at Cooley Law School takes into account the best possible practices being used in construction, including sustainability,” Schoettle said. “Ultimately, LEED building practices made sense financially. It saves money for the school over the long term and preserves natural resources in the process.”

Nussbaumer said the building had sat vacant for a number of years before Cooley bought it.

“It was an empty shell,” he said.

Meeting with “the hard-hats,” architects and others around a make-shift wooden table, Cooley officials were told if certain things were done before and during construction, Auburn Hills could become LEED certified, Nussbaumer said.

Going green costs more up front, Brennan said, but because of the energy costs saved by utilizing a number of building processes, materials and engineering, the savings would be realized in about seven years. He said the entire project – purchase and renovation of the existing 65,000-square-foot building, and the later 65,000-square-foot addition, costs about $20 million. Building it the standard way, without looking to LEED standards, would have been less, but not by much, he said.

“This building has at least a 40-year life span, if not more, and so we’ll be making money for the last 33 years, based on the efficiencies that were built in,“ Nussbaumer said.

“We did this for two reasons,” Nussbaumer said. “It made business sense. And it’s the wave of the future, and being a good community and world citizen.”

SHW Group Architects-Engineers, using LEED-accredited professionals, have made the Auburn Hills campus “a state of the art building,” Brennan said, becoming both environmentally-friendly and cost-effective.

According to a Cooley fact-sheet, green features in the entire project include;

• Recycled construction waste and materials that went into the project kept those materials out of landfills.

• One roof is a reflective white, which reflects heat, minimizing the summer cooling load and reduces power usage. Another roof is vegetated. Yes, it grows, which enhances insulation, minimizes storm water that would run off causing erosion and end up in the county’s storm water system, as well as delay the need for a new roof and materials. Nussbaumer said the foliage only gets about four-inches high. “It’s very low maintenance, so you don’t have to mow it,” Or pull weeds.

• Fresh water is also conserved by using water-efficient landscaping, and low-flow toilet and plumbing fixtures. Some urinals use no water at all but a high-tech suction system to dispose of waste.

• Natural light is used in many offices and hallways, and where lights are used, lower-wattage fixtures are in place, as well as room sensors in class rooms and offices that turn lights off when not being used.

• Computer-controlled heating and cooling systems dial down power usage when the buildings are not used, and maximize the use of outdoor fresh air.

• Low-emission paints, sealants and wood materials minimize toxic fumes, and the carpet-backing is made from recycled tires.

• Preferred parking spaces in the future will be reserved for fuel-efficient, low-emission vehicles to encourage energy-efficient transportation. And Nussbaumer said bus routes were re-routed by Patterson so students could use public transportation in getting to and from campus.

• A number of recycling bins are located throughout the building to further reduce landfill waste.

• Permeable paving may be considered in future parking lots to reduce storm water runoff.

Nussbaumer also pointed out a reflective film on many of the windows that reflects sunlight and conserves energy, and to an elevator that is not the fastest, but saves on electricity.

The project has earned praise from Patterson, who last year opened the nation’s first LEED Gold Certified airport terminal at Oakland County International Airport.

“Cooley Law School has answered my call for Oakland County businesses and residents to find ways to reduce their energy consumption,” Patterson said. “And its LEED Silver certification should pay off big.”

Patterson said at the airport, utility costs have dropped from 70 cents per square foot to 39 cents per square foot, “a real savings to taxpayers. I’m sure we’ll see some of those savings at Cooley,” Patterson added.

Brennan said other Cooley campuses in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Lansing are going “green” as much as possible, but LEED certification is difficult to obtain at existing facilities. Still, things are being done to make those facilities as “green” as possible with various energy projects. He said a library expansion at the Lansing campus is now going through the LEED process. And the new campus, in Tampa, Fla, is using many LEED processes from Auburn Hills “to design the building to be very energy and cost efficient“ but will not seek LEED certification.

“Sustainability is important today, and Cooley has tried to be in that green initiative,” Brennan said.

“We see lots of benefits in our bottom line in efficiency of the building (at Auburn Hills), spend a lot to heat, so any savings we can incur by doing the green portion is beneficial for Cooley and also helps environment.”

He said another part of the LEED process is in education, so signs are in place in a few areas pointing out the improvements and describing what Cooley did to become more efficient and energy conscious.

Nussbaumer said the nearly 900 students at Auburn Hills also benefit from the LEED project because savings at the school trickle down to its ability to offer lower tuition.

“And because many students these days have a green consciousness, they like the idea of going to law school in a green facility,” he said. “It also fits in with the 67 acres of woods and wetland surrounding the campus, making it part of its culture.”

Nussbaumer credited LeDuc, the Board of Directors, and Schoettle and his operations crew for making it all happen.

“As in many other areas, Cooley takes a leadership role for others to follow as we all try to be better stewards of our world and our environment,” Nussbaumer said. “And I feel good about the fact we built this, and live and work in a facility that’s helping the country conserve energy.”

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