Minnesota colleges are building for a greener future.
That's no ordinary building that will be ceremonially dedicated at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Macalester College corner of Grand and Snelling in St. Paul. It's a LEED Platinum building -- and it's more significant than many Minnesotans yet realize.
LEED Platinum certification means that Markim Hall, home of Macalester's Institute for Global Citizenship, ranks among the best of the best new buildings in the country as a minimal consumer of energy and emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide. LEED ratings measure how well new construction and major remodeling projects achieve those goals.
If the acronym LEED hasn't crossed your radar yet, it will soon -- and it should. It stands for "leadership in energy and environmental design," a label chosen by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. That coalition of building industry leaders rates how well buildings perform in five categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.
Designing and remodeling buildings with those criteria in mind are an essential part of any American strategy to throttle back this nation's contribution to global warming, and reduce its consumption of finite, carbon-emitting fuel. Residential and commercial buildings account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
The LEED Platinum rating is reserved for top-echelon performers. Only 12 U.S. collegiate buildings have received the rating. Macalester's Markim Hall is the third building of any kind to achieve it in Minnesota, and the first on any college or university campus in the Upper Midwest. The other two Minnesota Platinums are commercial buildings owned by energy companies.
Hard on Markim's heels is another, much larger academic building 40 miles away -- Regents Hall at St. Olaf College, now in its second year of serving students. Regents is a candidate for LEED Platinum designation and "on track to receive it," said college spokesman David Gonnerman. As a science center, Regents must meet air quality measures that prolong the LEED certification process.
In both cases, aiming for LEED's highest rung meant spending more on construction than the institutions otherwise might have -- only slightly more in St. Olaf's case and 15 percent more in Macalester's. But the schools expect to recoup the higher initial costs and more over the lifetime of buildings that cost much less than average to operate. Macalester President Brian Rosenberg maintains that aiming for platinum was an aid to fundraising for Markim Hall. Its $7.7 million cost was financed entirely through donations.
But more than money was involved in the decision to take the Minnesota lead in low-energy, low-emission building design. Building green is also consistent with these colleges' longstanding missions of learning, leadership and service.
Throughout this state's history, private colleges have been in the vanguard of Minnesota visionaries, quick to spot this state's emerging needs and act to meet them. That was true when Hamline University produced the state's first college graduates -- both women -- in 1859. It's true today, as evidenced by private colleges' numerous new environmental studies programs, campus-wide waste reduction efforts, the wind turbines that generate electricity at St. Olaf and Carleton (and, soon, at Gustavus Adolphus) as well as Regents and Markim halls. Where these schools lead, others should follow.