Needling Naysayers or Constructive Critics--The Tough Case Of Northland Pines

Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, Wisconsin will go down in the annals of green building history as the first third party appeal of a LEED certification.  In short, two engineers and five local citizens appealed the grant of LEED Gold certification based on the school's alleged failure to comply with the energy, commissioning and indoor air quality prerequisites.  The complaint is available here

According to the appeal: 

  • EA1, Prerequisite, Fundamental Building Systems Commissioning was not complied with. The first three steps of the Commissioning Process include review of design intent, basis of design documentation, and incorporation of commissioning requirements into the Construction Documents. All are required prior to bidding and construction. The reviewing professionals have been unable to confirm that any were performed. Had a competently executed Design Review been performed by the Commissioning Agent, as required by LEEDTM NC 2.1, ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999 and ASHRAE Guideline 1- 1996, the majority of the EA2 and EQ1 violations identified by the reviewing professionals  should have been identified by the Commissioning Agent and corrected by the design team prior to the issuance of the Construction Documents for bid.
  • EA2, Prerequisite, Minimum Energy Performance: The design of the HVAC systems and other listed elements of the building do not comply with all of the requirements of ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999. The scope and number of prerequisites violations was pervasive.
  • EQ1, Prerequisite, Minimum IAQ Performance: The design of the HVAC systems failed to comply with ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-1999, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. Validation computations were performed to determine the actual basis for ventilation rates and to determine what the actual ventilation requirements would have been had the required Ventilation Rate Procedure computations been performed. These computations established that the actual basis for ventilation was the Wisconsin Enrolled Code, which produces significantly lower ventilation rates at both individual zones and at the system level than those which would have otherwise been required to comply with ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-1999.

In April, the USGBC upheld the Northland Pines certification, stating:

After extensive review, USGBC and its consultants have no reason to believe that the project failed to meet all of the LEED prerequisites and credits that it has attempted. Thus, USGBC will not act to revoke certification or disallow any prerequisites or credits. Northland Pines High School will retain the 40 points awarded to the project in its original review. The project remains certified at the Gold level.

This week, the appellants, unsatisfied with USGBC's review, issued a three page reply, entitled "LEED Credibility Destroyed". 

It is obvious that USGBC fails and refuses to acknowledge their inability to enforce and their unwillingness to support their intellectual property or defend their client's property rights. Both independent consultants to the USGBC share the same shame as the designers and contractors who submitted the LEED® application to the USGBC for not admitting that this building does not comply with the two prerequisite ASHRAE Standards in their entirety. Mr. Taylor, who knew better or should have known better, is even more culpable by virtue of his service on both ASHRAE committees and chairing one.

We are awaiting the USGBC's response, due any time, defending its position. 

The question has become are the Northland Pines objectors Needling Naysayers or Constructive Critics? And why does it matter? If the Northland Pines objectors are constructive critics, they should be encouraged by USGBC.  Valid complaints about construction fraud should have a place within the LEED system.  But the process could easily become overwhelmed by Needling Naysayers, or as my husband calls them, BANANAs--Build Absolutely Nothing And Nowhere Anytime.  I could see the USGBC/GBCI overwhelmed by neighbors objecting to every project, slowing down the process, making it more expesive and discouraging green building and LEED certification.  This is what often happens in local government zoning hearings and land development approvals processes.

USGBC/GBCI is in the process of amending its challenge process.  The new process  needs to strike a balance between allowing sunshine in to expose fraud, and providing USGBC/GBCI the opportunity to cut off baseless claims.