JBRC Recommends $30 Million Project at CCU; Critics Question ‘Green’ Building Methods

February 28, 2013

Investigative Reports

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Coastal Carolina UniversityThe state Joint Bond Review Committee Wednesday recommended funding for a new $30 million science building at Coastal Carolina University.

But the estimated cost savings from the mandated “green” construction methods for such projects have been questioned by critics.

The proposed science annex at Coastal Carolina, to be constructed between February 2014 and December 2015, will follow the state-mandated Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) method.

The Horry County school is projected to save $3.5 million in energy costs over 30 years, which, if accurate, would work out to about $117,000 a year.

Builders can receive LEED certifications by meeting certain energy-efficiency prerequisites during the construction of a building. But the method, which is affiliated with the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), has received criticism for being too optimistic on energy savings.

The chief critic is Todd Myers, director of the Center for the Environment at the Seattle-based Washington Policy Center. He wrote a book in 2011 titled, “Eco-Fads: How the Rise of Trendy Environmentalism is Harming the Environment.” He cites data among public schools in Washington state that jumped into the “green” building movement and saw their energy costs increase.

Myers doesn’t argue that following the LEED certification always results in higher costs. But he contends that based on the evidence, it is reasonable to question claims by USGBC officials pushing LEED.

The proposed 67,800-square-foot building at Coastal Carolina would be constructed to consolidate science facilities on the main campus in Conway. The building would be paid with $6.4 million in bonds from the college, $18 million from a local one-penny sales tax, and $5.6 million from a capital project fund.

Sandra Williams, Coastal Carolina’s director of facilities, planning and management, told The Nerve the university’s Atkins Field House and HTC Student Recreation and Convocation Center have received LEED certifications, and two other buildings are in the process of receiving the certifications.

“All of these projects were in the design process prior to the JBRC (Joint Bond Review Committee) requiring that a 30 year cost-benefit analysis be submitted showing anticipated energy savings over the life of the project,” Franklin said in an email.

Franklin said the LEED-certified buildings have only been open more than one year, which isn’t enough time to generate data on cost savings.

The USGBC touts the LEED certifications as voluntary. But the JBRC mandated the cost-benefit analyses with new construction of 10,000 square feet or more after the S.C. General Assembly overrode a veto by then- Gov. Mark Sanford in 2007 on a bill requiring the “green” standards for larger construction projects involving state-funded buildings.

Sanford didn’t like state government mandating construction methods.

“Our view is that we need to avoid mandates wherever possible,” Sanford wrote in his veto message dated June 14, 2007. “We believe that we should certainly encourage the types of construction contemplated in this legislation but ultimately leave the decision to the institution or governmental entity in question. To do otherwise is to mandate raising the cost of government or education in circumstances that may not warrant the mandate.”

Sanford said the bill, depending on how rigid the enforcement of the “green” building standards by the state engineer, could increase construction costs by 10 percent to 40 percent.

The state Budget and Control Board (BCB), which has the final say on the proposed $30 million Coastal Carolina project, produces an annual report on the progress achieved with implementation of “The Energy Independence and Sustainable Construction Act of 2007.”

The law allows the use of LEED certification or the Green Building Initiative’s “Green Globes,” which is a rival to LEED certification, but touted by the Portland, Oregon-based group as more affordable than the LEED method. All but one project complying with the law has used the LEED standard, the 2012 BCB report shows.

The report also states that 47 state buildings have or are in the process of pursuing LEED certification. There are 26 buildings certified under provisions of the law, including:

  • College of Charleston’s Craig Cafeteria;
  • University of South Carolina’s Upstate Health Education Complex; and
  • Greenville Technical College’s Student Center.

The BCB report shows that of the three buildings in operation for more than a year “energy and water use cannot be accurately assigned to the new or renovated building.”

There are 21 buildings that predate the law, with 15 of them having received LEED certifications, according to the BCB report. Also, six public schools received LEED certifications as of Dec. 31, 2011; of the six public schools, three are in Beaufort, the BCB report states.

The BCB report also identifies future challenges, one of which is LEED revising many of its standards since June 2007.

“It is possible that the number of requests for waivers to the energy provision will increase as compliance becomes more difficult,” the BCB report states.

Olson can be reached at (803) 254-4411 or curt@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @thenerve_curt and @olson_curt. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and on Twitter @thenervesc.