Eagle River, WI

Northland Pines High School

The nation’s first LEED® Gold certified public high school demonstrates the cost effectiveness and positive tradeoffs of using resources wisely.
Going for Gold wasn’t part of the plan during the early stages of building Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, Wis. It soon became apparent, though, that becoming LEED® Gold certified was easily within reach with design plans that already incorporated many sustainability features.

"The school district was interested in a practical design, but also in a design that was environmentally responsible," says Mark Hanson, LEED-AP and director of sustainable services for Hoffman LLC in Appleton, Wis., the design/build firm for Northland Pines.

Hanson says that his company was "thrilled" that the school district chose to pursue formal LEED certification at the Gold rating level. There was one hitch, however. Because the decision to go for a LEED Gold rating occurred well into the design phase, the question was: How do you squeeze the additional necessary costs out of the budget to achieve a higher rating this late in the process? Every dollar in the $29 million budget had already been earmarked for specific expenditures. For most projects at this point, it would be difficult to reallocate the budget to pay for the extra commissioning and certification costs.

A Built-In Lead on LEED: Two factors worked in Northland Pines’ favor. For one, many building components were already sustainable. “Our philosophy as a firm is you should be able to achieve [at least a] LEED Silver rating at a conventional cost,” says Hanson. “We had designed sustainability into the project. The decision to go for formal certification didn’t alter the building. We were already tracking there.”

Sustainable components such as water-efficient plumbing were already part of the plan. Northland Pines installed 22 Sloan Waterfree Urinals and more than 40 of Sloan’s manual UPPERCUT® dual-flush flushometers, which flush at the standard 1.6 gallons of water with a pull down on the handle or with half a gallon less with a push up. Signage in the restroom stalls educates users about this water-saving feature. Restrooms also use Sloan Optima® sensor-activated faucets running at an efficient flow rate of 0.5 gallons per minute as opposed to the maximum of 2.2 gpm.

Second, the design/build firm encourages the concept of cost trading, which offsets additional funding needs by pulling costs out of the project. Hanson said that although there’s not as much budgetary wiggle room with schools as there can be with commercial projects, there are still ways to responsibly trim costs by evaluating the value of different choices.

The design team downsized the chiller originally specified for the school’s 49,570-square-foot fieldhouse, for example, when it realized that the only real tradeoff would be that the temperature could drift up 2 to 3 degrees on an extremely hot day. Going with a chiller that was about 65 tons lighter, but a higher level up in the next series down, posed an acceptable risk in temperature fluctuation while freeing up money for other uses.

Sustainability for the Sake of Responsibility: Northland Pines certainly wasn’t mandated to take the efficiency measures that it chose to make; these decisions just made sense. Initiatives to save water are a good example.

"We're sitting in the upper Midwest in the Saudi Arabia of water resources," Hanson says, referring broadly to the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water.

Yet, planners' watchful eye on using water wisely—from both a fiscal and a resourcefulness point of view—led them to install water-efficient plumbing products and to put in landscaping that doesn’t require outdoor watering. Hanson said that while for many projects, those decisions come down simply to “money matters,” the focus on efficiency here also aligned with personal values of responsible, common sense behavior that local residents appreciate. “In a rural Wisconsin community, that speaks to people,” he says.

The monetary savings from using less water compared to a like-sized school are very healthy. "When you actually calculate your cost to buy water from the municipality, it's an annual appreciation of $15,000 per year. We thought we should be able to cut that by 40% or better and save $7,000 a year." In any case, Hanson says, "It was the responsible thing to do."

In so doing, Hanson adds, “We’re realizing an appreciable water savings.” Plus, now that Northland Pines has proven that products such as Waterfree Urinals are worthwhile, other area schools are starting to do their own share of low-consumption plumbing upgrades, extending the reach of responsible behavior even further.

When you actually calculate your cost to buy water from the municipality, it's an annual appreciation of $15,000 per year. We thought we should be able to cut that by 40% or better and save $7,000 a year.

Mark Hanson

LEED-AP and Director of Sustainable Services for Hoffman LLC