What's it worth to have a building certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit group that sets the "LEED" green building standards?
About $250,000, according to a majority of Menlo Park City Council members. The council voted 3-1 at its July 21 meeting to complete the documentation necessary to obtain LEED Silver certification for a new gymnasium in the Civic Center complex. Councilman John Boyle dissented in the vote, with Councilman Andy Cohen abstaining.
Going through the LEED process would not have any bearing on the materials or methods used to construct the gym, according to city management. So what's the purpose of getting it certified?
The council members who voted in favor of seeking certification -- Kelly Fergusson, Rich Cline and Heyward Robinson -- cited two reasons.
The first relates to economics. By obtaining the certification, the city would ensure that the facility is as energy-efficient as planned. That's an important consideration, because Menlo Park will be paying operating costs over the gym's estimated 50-year life, Ms. Fergusson noted.
The second reason has more to do with fairness: If the city doesn't go through the LEED process, how can it expect private developers to do so?
Councilman Boyle said the city could put the money toward better use, arguing that it is using bond money designated for parks and recreation facilities to buy "paperwork."
Menlo Park isn't the only local jurisdiction grappling with the LEED process. Portola Valley doesn't expect its new Town Center, completed in September 2008, to be certified until August. Councilman Richard Merk said he heard one "expert" describe certification as costing $100,000, and another describe it as costing over $1 million. The town isn't tracking the cost, but Mr. Merk suspects it's closer to the $1 million end of the spectrum.
Menlo Park has not yet adopted a policy on LEED certification. But two neighboring jurisdictions, Palo Alto and Stanford University, have found ways to promote green building techniques without tying themselves to the demanding LEED certification process.
Palo Alto's policy requires all new city buildings over 5,000 square feet to meet LEED Silver certification. But the City Council can hire an independent consultant to verify LEED compliance without actually obtaining a certificate, spending the money left over "to enhance the green building features of the project."
Stanford has created its own set of guidelines, specifically calibrated to educational facilities. It modifies them periodically, to line up with "current best practices," according to the university's Web site.
Dave Boyce contributed to this report.