The $55 million UW-La Crosse Student Union that opened in January has received LEED Gold Certification. LEED — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — is a national green building certification system providing third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at increasing performance, reducing waste and improving quality of life.

The Student Union earns top energy mark

The latest building to open at UW-La Crosse is also the latest to receive top marks in its energy and environmental design. The $55 million, student-funded Student Union that opened in January has received LEED Gold Certification.

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a national green building certification system. It provides third-party verification that a building was designed and built using strategies aimed at increasing performance, reducing waste and improving quality of life. Sustainable strategies are incorporated in energy use, lighting, water and material use and more. As an added bonus, the buildings save money. The four levels of LEED Certification include: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Doug Pearson, executive director of UWL Facilities Planning and Management, says the designation is globally recognized for excellence in green building. “LEED’s global sustainability agenda is designed to achieve high performance in key areas of human and environmental health, acting on the triple bottom line — putting people, planet and profit first,” he explains. “The LEED Gold Certification provides documentation that we followed defined building performance strategies that will result in 25 percent less energy, 19 percent lower operating costs, 27 percent higher occupant satisfaction, and 36 percent less CO2 emissions.”

LED lighting is one of the energy-efficient aspects of the new UWL Student Union that opened in January. The light throughout the entire building is just one of the green design and construction features the led to the building’s LEED Gold Certification.

Pearson says LEED certification of the Student Union was based on a number of green design and construction features. Among them:

  • LED lighting throughout the building
  • building automation system for HVAC controls
  • low volatile organic compound (VOC) glues and adhesives
  • locally sourced building materials
  • additional bike racks to promote alternative modes of travel
  • additional daylighting
  • storm water management systems
  • high-efficiency, centralized cooling system for refrigerators and freezers
  • access to mass transit
  • low-flow toilets and sink faucets
  • reduced light pollution
  • high-efficiency motors with variable speed drives.

The Student Union has also adopted green cleaning methods to ensure decreased cost and reduced environmental impacts associated with on-going maintenance procedures, says Pearson. And, the Student Union will soon obtain an electric vehicle to take food waste to a local vermicomposter.

Sustainability was prevalent in the project early on, says Melissa Rudolph, Senior Project Manager at Eppstein Uhen Architects of Milwaukee. The project used Wisconsin’s Focus on Energy design assistance program to evaluate the most efficient mechanical, electrical and building shell. The building also brought the outside in. “We wanted to design a building that incorporated materials native to the region and was inspired by the surrounding parks and nature trails,” explains Rudolph.

The building’s storm water design incorporated rain gardens and permeability to the area that helps keep rainwater on the site. Along with creative design, the features help add to the site’s beauty, says Phil Vetterkind, LEED Accredited Professional, Operations and Maintenance Director at Sustainable Building Solutions. “The landscape design added a blend of drought tolerant and indigenous plants to the project,” explains Vetterkind. “Along with being very sustainable and needing no irrigation, these plants make the buildings site beautiful and practical as well.”

The project diverted over 90 percent of its construction waste. More than 35 percent of the project’s materials came from within a 500-mile radius and the building’s materials have over 25 percent recycled content. Materials selected also have no indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating or harmful to the comfort and well-being of installer and occupants.

By using less energy and water, LEED-certified buildings save UWL students and taxpayers money, along with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to a healthier environment, says Pearson. The certification was established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). Pearson serves on the Council’s Wisconsin Market Leadership Advisory Board, a non-profit organization focused on promoting sustainable building practices in Wisconsin.

Both Centennial Hall and Eagle Hall received the prestigious certification when they opened in fall 2011. Newer building efficiencies were part of the reason UWL was recognized in 2016 for reducing energy consumption by 12.7 percent from 2005-2015. With that reduction, UWL was given one of about 60 awards worldwide from the Association of Energy Engineers, non-profit professional association with more than 18,000 members.

Centennial Hall is one of several buildings at UWL built to green building certification standards, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED). UWL’s newest building, The Student Union, had just received Gold LEED standing — joining Centennial Hall and Eagle Hall with the prestigious ranks. UWL’s commitment to green building design and energy efficient updates across campus have resulted in lower energy use and budget savings.

The New Science Labs Building was designed to LEED Silver standards. The State of Wisconsin Division of Facilities Development follows LEED guidelines for sustainable construction, but the actual verification and certification will not be done by the USGBC.

About LEED

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building certification system is the foremost program for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. There are four levels of LEED Certification – Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, they save money. Over 100,000 projects are currently participating in the LEED rating systems, comprising over 8 billion square feet of construction space in all 50 states and 114 countries. For more information, visit www.usgbc.org.