Johnson County officials split on LEED certification for Secondary Roads


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Despite a history of excellence in sustainability, Johnson County officials are unsure about whether a new county building will follow this trend.

Plans are almost finished for the more than $3 million Johnson County secondary-roads facility, said Al Varney, an Ament Design executive vice president, at a Thursday meeting of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors.

The planning for the new building began after a fire damaged the previous secondary-roads facility in March.

One of the final issues to be discussed about the plans for the building was whether it will seek LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — certification.

Josh Busard, an assistant planner of the Johnson County Planning and Zoning Department, said the building would likely be unable to get a high level of certification because of not being in an urban area.

“I think we would be able to have a certified building, which is the lowest level of LEED certification,” he said, noting that with this low level of certification, the county would be unable to receive any rebates from the federal government.

The decision to whether to have the building become LEED-certified will not be made until the building is built.

The Iowa City area has had many buildings receive LEED certifications, including the city’s Environmental Education Center, which was awarded LEED platinum certification earlier this year. The building was the first city-owned building in Iowa to have this certification.

The University of Iowa College of Public Health Building has also received LEED platinum certification, the first academic building on the UI campus to do so.

The cost to receive this certification would add up to almost $30,000 to the county project’s price tag. This includes a $10,000 energy model and a $16,000 commissioning process. The commissioning process involves a third-party expert examining the building for sustainability and efficiency.

Supervisor John Etheredge said he doesn’t want to certify the building because the county wouldn’t receive any rebates, and the process is too expensive for no gain.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig disagreed with Etheredge, saying despite the lack of rebate opportunities, the certification process would be good for the county because it could help identify issues with the building and get them fixed.

“I just think in the long-term financial interest of Johnson County [getting the building certified] makes sense,” she said.

Busard agreed with Rettig, saying in the long term, the certification process would be worth the cost.
“It’s a small investment to make sure that everything is correct,” he said.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said this money could be better spent in other places, including further improvements to the facility.

“Adding additional storage is a better investment,” he said.

Busard said the third-party commissioning could find issues that would never be found in the normal building process.

“If you have a bad contractor, they’re just going to tell you what you want to hear,” he said.

Neuzil said there might be some problems that wouldn’t be identified even through the process. The Johnson County Health and Human Services building obtained LEED silver certification in 2011, and it still has problems, Neuzil said.

Busard said the certification would be important to maintain the image of Johnson County as a leader in environmental sustainability.

“We could have a very energy efficient and sustainable building,” he said. “It sets the example [that] Johnson County is a leader in sustainability.”

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