Keck Center opens without LEED certification Despite Chapman’s goals for sustainability, the center has no plans for certification

The university boasts that its $130 million jewel of a STEM complex has a world-class computational facility, 25 research labs and 20 teaching labs – but the building housing the environmental sciences is not LEED certified. While the Schmid College of Science and Technology is now open, the Fowler School of Engineering will not open until fall 2020. Photo by Tiffany Chen.

Chapman’s new Keck Center may look like a million – or 130 million – bucks, but an item not in the budget was the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. That’s a globally recognized symbol of sustainability that creates highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings. The university president says it might have cost too much to obtain LEED certification, but eco-conscious students complain that Chapman missed an opportunity to prove their school is serious about sustainability.

LEED certifications are the most widely used green-building rating system in the world and a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement, according to the organization that gives them out, the U.S. Green Building Council.

Students and environmental advocates lament the irony of a building that contains the Environmental Science and Policy Department failing to boast LEED certification.

“It’s pretty disappointing that we have the ability and resources to be more environmentally conscious but we’re choosing not to be,” said sophomore environmental science and policy major Nikki Heredia.

There are numerous environmental and economic benefits for buildings that are LEED certified on college campuses, said Communications Director of the US Green Building Council Aline Althen.

“LEED buildings perform more efficiently than comparable conventional buildings and also support and promote human health,” Althen said. “Green buildings use natural resources efficiently, lowering both utility bills and impact on the environment.”

LEED-certified green buildings value energy consumption reductions, help the environment and lower costs, according to Althen.

“LEED-certified buildings have been proven to use 25 percent less energy and (have) a 19 percent reduction in aggregate operational costs in comparison to non-certified buildings,” Althen said. “Upfront investment in green building makes properties more valuable, with an average expected increase in value of 4 percent.”

There are also a variety of tax benefits and incentives that vary by country and state available for green buildings, said Althen. Examples of incentives include “tax credits, grants, expedited building permits, and reductions/waivers in fees,” she said.  

It is difficult to get information from Chapman officials as to whether LEED certification was considered or sought for Keck – or if the building qualifies for any LEED designation. While university descriptions of the building claim the 140,000 square-feet complex boasts a “cool roof” to reduce heat, green-roof planters and rainwater reclamation, there is no mention on the Chapman website as to whether the building has solar panels, an energy-saving HVAC system or how the lighting systems were configured.  

Chapman is “committed to a campus culture that promotes a sustainable future,” and was, ironically, lauded in 2014 as the “most sustainable school in Orange County” by the U.S. Green Buildings Council. Yet, members of the administration declined to comment on whether Keck contains the latest in sustainable technology.

Energy Conservation and Sustainability Manager Mackenzie Crigger declined to comment on  Keck’s lack of LEED certification.

Vice President of Campus Planning & Operations Kris Olsen said she was not available to comment, but suggested we contact the Executive Assistant to VP of Campus Planning and Operations Katie Bye. Bye also declined to comment.  

Interim Dean of Schmid College of Science and Technology Jason Keller declined to comment, citing a lack of knowledge about the Keck Center.

“I think Keck is environmentally very advanced, but we may not have done the LEED certifications due to the costs of doing the certification vs. the cost of doing what the certifications require,” said Daniele Struppa, president of Chapman University. Struppa gave a qualified endorsement concerning the threat of global warming, saying, in response to a student allegation that he did not believe in it that “I’m pretty sure global climate change is true.”

Dean of Fowler School of Engineering Andrew Lyon also declined to comment on Keck’s lack of LEED certification. However, he emphasized the importance of practicing sustainability.

The modern approach to problem-solving needs to balance not only the quality of the proposed solution but also the sustainability of that solution,” Lyon said. “[This] is also important for Engineering as we build our curricula and mentor our students to become thought leaders and innovators.”

“I am personally disappointed to hear that Keck was not built for LEED standards and I am also disappointed by Chapman’s passiveness in improving the sustainability of its buildings,” even when given an opportunity to do so when renovating facilities, said Ryan O’Hara, president of Mission Environment and a senior environmental science and policy major.

“It is frustratingly difficult for Chapman’s Sustainability Department to quickly implement new improvements and policies because a lot of the people in power at Chapman don’t even believe in global warming,” O’Hara said.

“To earn LEED certification, a project team or professionals working on the design and construction of a new building or major building renovation must register their project with Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which is the sister organization of the USGBC,” Althen said.

But existing buildings, too, can apply for a silver, gold, or platinum certification, Althen said.

There are two ways projects can choose to pursue a LEED certification.

“The first way is to submit documentation showcasing the project’s sustainability features in categories such as energy, water, transportation, site selection, and more,” Althen said.  

Althen also recommends college campuses pursue building performance benchmarking to understand how infrastructures are being built and how they can improve.

“By making incremental changes to water, energy, waste, transportation, and human experience elements within individual buildings and across campuses, schools can make a measurable difference in both their environmental and human health areas,” Althen said.

Students enjoy cosying up and having study sessions under the McCradle
Steps. Photo by Tiffany Chen.

Tiffany Chen and Joanna Falla

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