New gym: Is green certification worth $250,000?


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.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 28, 2009 at 11:23 am

Heyward Robinson, Richard Cline and Kelly Fergusson are typical liberals. They are always generous with the taxpayers' money. And they certainly doesn't have even the slightest inkling of what project management is. You don't need to blow $250K.

But Heyward, Richard and Kelly do not understand that you don't have to spend a lot of green to be green. You just make the LEED criteria part of the construction contract and have one of our own building inspectors validate that the construction meets or exceeds the LEED criteria at each project milestone under the milestone payment plan.

Satisfaction of the LEED requirements is essential to satisfying the milestone exit criteria. If the milestone is not complete the builder does not get paid.

The City Council has the right to require that the LEED criteria be satisfied for city funded projects. But Kelly Fergusson is going down a intrusive path when she suggests that private developers be required to do the same for private projects. I believe that developers should be encouraged to build green buildings and that they be required to disclose to the buyer whether LEED requirements have been met. But at the end of the day these costs will be passed throught to the buyer. The Developer should inform the buyer what the extra cost of the Green building and the buyer should make the decision as to whether to authorize the developer to spend the additional money to be LEED compliant.

Do you remember when City Council members were public servants working to make our lives easier and not making our lives more difficult. Liberals have this condescending attitude that they know what is best for us and we should be so grateful that we have them to provide direction in our otherwise misinformed and chaotic lives.
Thank you big brother.

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Posted by You May Not Like Him
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 28, 2009 at 1:01 pm

You may not like Hank for his sarcastic comments, or his bashing of some of the council crew, but you have to admit he makes some very good sense, and is looking out for the taxpayer. I, for one, believes Hank has it right here. $250K is NOT a good use of our money for some certificate that you could do on our own.(city management) I'm sure the LEED's group is a nice group, and a nice idea, but we can do the same thing, and monitor this thru our own city staff. Just as the LEED's group needs to make a living, so do I, and I don't want my tax dollars going to something that we can do on our own. Please council, use common sense!

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Posted by Waste your own money
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 28, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Just think what $250,000 could do for after school sports programs, the library, fixing some potholes. Maybe even fix the holes that are so evidently in the heads of our city council members. Are they insane wasting $250,000 with the state taking away our local funds? What's the difference between embezzling city funds and just throwing it away - you don't have to go to jail.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

What next? The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval?

This does not compute.

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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Jul 28, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I absolutely agree with the previous posts on this subject, and I also have a real problem with the two reasons the article gave for the decision in the first place. First, why do they need a 3rd party certification to insure that the building is build to the correct specifications? Don't they trust the Staff involved in that process to do their jobs? Second, neighboring cities which have adopted LEED criteria in their development requirements, while requiring "LEED Silver Equivalent" have not made it mandatory for developers to pay the extra $$ for Certification. Does this mean, this council is going to do that--and add another reason for developers to forego investing in MP?

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 28, 2009 at 3:46 pm

This makes as much sense as wasting $250k on a city manager... oh wait...

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Posted by shocked
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 28, 2009 at 7:09 pm

The theory, I believe, is that if we commit to an environmentally sensitive design without certification, then the contractor will cut corners and we won't end up with something that is truly green.

A better question is "why should this cost $250,000?" I think the council made the right decision, but that price tag is ridiculous. Is LEED certification simply a government boondoggle? Surely there are engineers/architects (I'm not sure I trust our own building inspectors to be very careful) who could ascertain whether or not the contractor had complied with the specifications for, say, $1000 or so.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 28, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Seven comments...this must be burning up the kitchen tables in our great city. This is such an example of micro-politiking. The issue of 250K for LEED certification is now the big issue?

This is embarrassing.

Go ahead old timers and right wingers, try to make it an issue.

Watching you fail to create another union bashing or Park theater call to action will further prove your irrelevance.

We have big issues to deal with and you all stare at your navels and pick at the lint.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 28, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Truth, if the town council can waste a quarter of a million dollars on a piece of useless paper, what other kinds of mischief are they getting up to with taxpayer money? The mind boggles.

Like this comment
Posted by untruth
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2009 at 2:53 am

So pray tell oh "truth" what are the issues you deem worthy.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jul 29, 2009 at 6:54 am

Should be obvious, but I will take the challenge.

I think the general plan is outdated and that this city is floating down the path of no direction. My community, East Menlo, could see a whole new generation fo development, but why? what is the plan?

I think having four school districts in one city this size is ridiculous. Our council cannot fix it, but it needs attention.

I think we need to usher in a new era of employee/city relationship that allows the city to take a step back into a two-tier benefit system. I don't blame our council for a national problem unlike your buddy, Hank.

Our mode of transit is a joke. I heard a great quote from someone one council that putting billions into HSR when we cannot even catch a train to Union City is akin to that bridge in Alaska.

I agree as I have written before.

And finally, we have to keep the pressure on this council to move the needle on transparency. It is still hit and miss on each issue and they need to crack down once and for all.

I have watched hundreds of residents jump on the GRCC wagon and they have directed this city and this council to lead, not follow, on green policy. LEED is not a scam, it is the early stage of what will be a method for improving our buildings long into the future. To try to again point a finger at our council for the challenges of LEED certification or unions or police salaries is obtuse.

You know it as much as me, you just want political opportunity.

I can't let such a shallow attempt go...I never do.

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:07 am

Can't say I disagree with anything Truth says, although I would prefer that the council save the $250K and figure out a cheaper way to ensure LEED compliance. The one point I want to echo is the need for better transparency, and my main concern is in the financial area. It's just too hard to nail down figures on the city's costs -- child care is a good example -- and figures seem to change depending on who is answering your question. This is troubling, to say the least.

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Posted by Truth's Own Agenda
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 29, 2009 at 9:50 am

Truth seems to only like those things that are his/her agenda. The council is operating under transparency, very much so, even TOO much so. We elected them to do a job, let them do their job, you shouldn't have to scrutinize, painfully every single decision they make. The "Truth" is "Truth" is that by you guys making it so transparent, it now takes 10X longer for them to make a decision, even the smallest of decisions, because they need to have you and your followers weigh in on everything!
Also, what is it with you guys and the school topic? Who cares that there are 4 districts? How 'bout 40 districts? The council has NOTHING to do with the schools, and shouldn't, based on your boy Andy's recent comments in the Almanac. Does that guy hate kids? Painfully obvious.
$250K is a huge amount of money for some certification that no one seems to understand, or that many other jurisdictions seem to get around easily. Lastly, "GRCC Bandwagon"???
What are you kidding me? Name ONE thing of any substance that this ridiculous organization has done, ONE thing, besides sit there and pontificate what they want to do, or are going to do, or what citizens should do, etc.( And yes, I have been to some of their meetings.) Just another organization, that ties itself to government, a government that can't make decisions, continues to delay, but spends THOUSANDS on bad ideas. Menlo Park government is WORSE than the federal government, my dear friend Mr. Lawrence!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

Personally, I would have preferred that the city spend the $250k putting solar cells on top of the new police substation we are building in Belle Haven or on some of our existing buildings. This council seems to prefer symbolic measures like taking the Cool City Pledge, paying PG&E for carbon offset credits, or this LEED certification rather than taking actual steps to reduce our carbon emissions.

Other environmentally sensitive cities have recognized that the leverage is in the LEED checklist, not in paying a consultant to document every step in the process which normally results in delays and cost increases and does not significantly impact energy efficiency.

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Posted by slocumites run amok
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 29, 2009 at 10:36 pm

OPM , our short sighted city politicians' frivolous plundering of "Other Peoples Money". Well, well, if the Feds can print stimulus money and run into a historic deficit, then why not give our Chino manager the green light to spend at will. At least there seems to be a reckoning in Sacto. that frugality is the dictate of these times. Hasn't filtered down to our local leaders. Time will tell come November 2010 when 3 council seats are up for grabs.

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Posted by Experienced with LEED
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2009 at 7:23 am

I have thirty years of experience in energy-efficient and green building design and 7 years of experience with LEED in countless projects - here are a few thoughts:

- Buildings consume 72% of the electricity and are responsible for nearly 40% of our nation's GHG emissions, according to the EIA. As a design professional I am embarrassed that we don't do better. As a citizen I am outraged that we as a nation continue to put up with this approach 36 years after the first Arab Oil Embargo.

- Buildings can be designed and constructed to be much more efficient, responsible and productive places - but we don't typically do this. Owners, designers and contractors primarily focus on first cost. LIFE CYCLE COST should be the driver, especially for municipal buildings, since we all own them for the long haul.

- Myriad studies now show that LEED certified buildings perform better than non-LEED buildings. Green buildings are reported to cost an average of 2% more to build - and that added cost is typically returned through energy cost savings in the first 5-10 years of operation. Green buildings are also proven to be healthier and more productive places for people: studies show that these cumulative benefits far outweigh the energy savings alone.

- Whether we admit it or not, we all live by the mantra that "what gets measured can be managed or improved". We track our weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. We require our physicians to have medical degrees from accredited institutions. We track our kids' grades and - as sad as it seems lately - the performance of our 401k plans. We check Consumer Reports to compare ownership costs and fuel efficiency before buying our cars. We rely on 3rd party measurement in many aspects of our lives...but we don't require third-party certification of the performance of our buildings, which are some of the largest and most impactful investments that we will ever make!

- I have had LEED projects come in on-time and under budget, with virtually no added cost.

- I had a situation where a city decided to pursue LEED certification for a large project after the design was essentially complete (construction documents were at 95%). Even with this late change in scope, the added cost was 2%. We projected that we would save 2.2 million kWh per year as a result of changes made to the design, which is equal to the annual consumption of 209 average U.S. households. The simple payback of the certification effort was less than 10 years.

- I had a situation where the cost was 10% more, which resulted in a mixed-use laboratory/office building that earned LEED Platinum certification - the highest level. This building was modeled to have 88% lower energy costs than a comparable building that met local codes and requirements. Again, the added expense was expected to pay back within ten years.

- I am not familiar with the scope of this project, so as a result, it is difficult to comment on the magnitude of the reported $250,000 additional cost for LEED certification. I do know that the fees paid to the U.S. Green Building Council for the actual certification of the building can't be much larger than $23,000 ($450 to register, and $0.035/SF for certification review, maxing out at $22,500). There are some added costs for design and construction professionals for paperwork, though the design and construction team should be able to minimize this through experience. There may be an additional consulting cost to engage experienced LEED accredited professionals, but this usually pays for itself, due to the added wisdom and knowledge that they bring to the process.

- Energy modeling is required in California and by LEED; it is a smart investment that pays for itself in energy savings. Building commissioning is required by LEED - and again, through my experience, it ALWAYS results in the construction of a more efficient and productive space, and typically pays for itself in better design and construction. Lastly, the bulk of the remaining additional costs for LEED projects are typically due to enhanced energy efficiency measures - and these ALWAYS have some level of associated payback.

While LEED is not perfect, it is the best tool out there to ensure that our buildings are built to be environmentally-responsible, efficient, productive spaces. We need 3rd party verification to ensure that our buildings are designed and built to a higher standard: we have accepted too little for too long with our overwhelming dependence upon first cost alone.

Over 190 communities and 31 states have committed to pursue LEED certification for public buildings, and they are to be commended for doing so. Our municipalities must lead by example! The next step is for our municipal officials to understand the true costs of building to and earning LEED certification so that they can manage public projects to maximize our bang for the buck. As citizens, we need to educate ourselves. We need to demand quality, efficiency and compliance with green building requirements. We must evaluate the reported "added costs of LEED certification" for our public projects. We need to gain perspective as to what those costs specifically cover and the benefits that will accrue to the community as a result of making them.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 30, 2009 at 8:01 am

Experienced with Leed is missing the point. The point is that if the contractor complies with LEED requirements to get paid and a City inspector validates LEED compliance the City can save $250,000.

The City has the right to require LEED compliance for the buildings. However the City has the fiduciary responsibility to determine the depth and length of the cash well, how many years out is the Break Even Point using a realistic Cost of Capital, and the savings in the out years given projected escalations in energy costs.

My belief is that LEED compliance will save the city money in the long run plus having the advantage of a reduced carbon footprint. But we should do analyses rather than speculate on the savings.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 2, 2009 at 3:15 pm

No, Hank Lawrence it is you who is missing the point (as usual).

The donor agreed to pay for costs above the $6MM that MP is going to furnish. The donor agreed to build the structure to conform to LEED standards. What the donor did not agree to, was paying for the LEED certification. This is not $250,000; it will be no more than $50K.

Now I don't agree with paying the $50K, but it will not cost the City an extra $250K.

The process that this gym has gone through was badly flawed. I point to this being the case right at staff, and more particularly at our City Manager, Mr. Rojas. He was personally involved with all the negotiations -- the buck stops right there and he quite frankly blew it.

This structure will be 50 feet high. That's is massive as compared with the other structures on the City's campus, which at most are 1/2 that high. This was clearly pointed out by Commissioner Pagee, but she was dismissed.

Then the parking -- there is no way the City would ever approve a private developer getting away with such a parking arrangement. Yes, the library is going to become much harder to visit. MP, really had no need for a gym this large in the first place, but now we have it.

It is truly so unfortunate, that this project, on which the whole community should have been supportive, has not turned out this way. As I said above, that rests right at the top of staff --- right at Mr. Rojas.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 4, 2009 at 10:51 am


You may have a point there. It was the majority of the City Council who said it was going to cost $250K. Since when did they get anything right?

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Posted by Don't Blame LEED!
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 4, 2009 at 2:04 pm

"Experienced With LEED" and "Observer" are on the mark in regards to certification cost, which should be down in the $25-50k range - and will more than pay for itself in the long run.

Thus, this $250k figure is awfully suspicious. What exactly did the City Manager pack into that figure under the guise of LEED certification? Inquiring minds want to know!

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Posted by Sean Howell
Almanac staff writer
on Aug 4, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Sean Howell is a registered user.

Don't Blame, others: Here's how the city's estimate breaks down. $50,000-$75,000 to hire a consultant to help with paperwork, plus an increase in construction costs of "1 to 2 percent." Their total estimate is $200,000 to $230,000, plus contingencies, to get the $250,000 maximum cost figure. This is per the project architect, according to city staff. See page 11 of the July 21 staff report, available on the city's Web site:

Web Link

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Posted by do the math
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 5, 2009 at 5:21 am

So...the extra cost of certification is really on the order of $50,000-75,000? And shouldn't those costs be much less, for a single consultant for paperwork?
The extra costs of energy efficient construction should pay back, right? So who on staff was so stupid as to make the costs sound so high? And did anyone even ask Arrillaga about helping out?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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