Scripps Weighs LEED Certification for New Residence Hall

Scripps Associated Students (SAS) hosted a panel discussion Dec. 3 at Vita Nova Hall about Scripps College’s plans for a new residence hall and whether it will receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for sustainability.

The panel consisted of Scripps President Lori Bettison-Varga, Chief Financial Officer Joanne Coville, Dean of Students Bekki Lee, architect Eera Babtiwale, Pitzer College professor Lance Neckar, Prescott College professor and Scripps parent Denise Mittens and former LEED consultant Megan Saffitz SC ’02.

“The initial schematic design that was presented was approved by Buildings and Grounds in fall of 2011,” Bettison-Varga said. “It was a 90-bed project that came in at a cost estimate of about 25 million dollars. That’s about a $260,000- to $270,000-per-bed price tag. The national average is about $70,000 per bed.”

However, due to budget concerns, the administration decided to scale the project back to 16.2 million dollars.

“Out of all the things that we had to do, it was determined that this project was outsized,” Bettison-Varga said. “We went back to buildings and grounds with a price tag of 15 million dollars. The schematic design for a 15 million-dollar project was approved by the board in the fall of this year. There was a small add-on of 1.2 million dollars to add beds to the project, so the total cost is 16.2 million dollars for 82 beds.”

Although the design has been approved, there are still questions as to what level of LEED certification the school will pursue for the building.

LEED certification, which was developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, attempts to recognize buildings and projects that meet certain standards of sustainability, energy and water efficiency and indoor environmental quality, among other factors.

“The way the LEED rating system works is it’s divided into four different levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum,” Saffitz said. “You kind of have a buffet of credit strategies that you can pursue, and the more points you accumulate through those credit strategies, the higher rating you become eligible for.”

Although the Buildings and Grounds Committee at Scripps initially recommended the school pursue LEED Gold or Platinum certification for the new building, the new budget and Scripps’s other building standards will likely prevent that from happening, according to Bettison-Varga.

“When we went back to the architect and said we’re not going to build a 25 million-dollar building, the question about a LEED building beyond Silver was asked, and she said it’s not going to be possible given the other Scripps standards that are expected on this campus,” Bettison-Varga said. “Our standards for residence halls are far and above beyond the national average. But we always have to remember that we do have a budget that we have to live in.”

In a poll conducted by SAS published Oct. 17, 91.2 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “Achieving LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum certification for the new residence hall should be a priority of Scripps College.” Further, 69 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed that this should be a priority even if it means a redesign or reallocation of funds.

Panelists said they were still confident that the residence hall would meet the standards for LEED Silver certification.

“You’re going to have to meet a lot of those [LEED certification] pre-requisites anyway because of what we have here in California in a very sophisticated energy code,” Babtiwale said. “So you would build essentially a LEED Silver building without having to design anything different in a way.”

Babitwale added that the benefits of building to LEED standards are not limited to becoming more environmentally responsible.

“You can expect to see something in the range of as much as 20-50 percent in terms of energy savings,” Babitwale said. “In terms of water efficiency, you’re looking at about a 40 percent savings in water. Qualitatively, you could look at increased student performance, student/occupant comfort, potentially an 18 percent decrease in air quality-related illnesses such as asthma and allergies.”

While Saffitz agreed that there are several health-related reasons to try to meet LEED standards, she also said that Scripps has a responsibility to set the bar higher for environmental achievements.

“The benefit to the college is becoming a leader for students and for women and for society,” Saffitz said. “I don’t think of Scripps as an institution that says, ‘We meet code!’ Everybody meets code. Right now, Princeton Review publishes 322 Green Colleges and Scripps isn’t in it. Pomona is, Claremont McKenna is, Pitzer is. I think it’s more about setting a standard.”