By Malcolm Curtis
Times Colonist, Victoria
January 02, 2004

ALL YOU NEED IS LEED 

The abbreviation stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a form of green certification that has become the hottest trend in the building business in the past year. 

Capital Regional District board members are pushing for the planned new CRD headquarters at Victoria's Centennial Square to be LEED certified — specifically with an eye to showcasing water efficiency. 

There's talk that Greater Victoria Public Library's proposed new main branch in the former Bay department store should get the LEED stamp of approval. And when developer Max Tomaszewski pitched the Bohemia retail and residential complex for the Cook Street Village the design called for LEED certified buildings. Victoria council rejected Tomaszewski's application to rezone land for the project, but he is working on a new proposal for the site at Cook and Sutlej streets. 

"There is growing interest in this," said Dale Gann, manager of development and marketing at Vancouver Island Technology Park in Saanich, the first and so far only project on Vancouver Island to earn LEED certification. 

Winning an environmental stamp of approval not only gives credibility to businesses, it can also bring long-term savings that more than compensate the initial up-front construction costs, he said. 

As the first project in the world to receive a gold rating for renovations, the $11.9-million technology park launched by the former NDP provincial government has inspired others to follow. 

Gann regularly receives visits from architects and high-tech business people from around the planet. Last week a group of 23 executives from Taiwan was the latest to make the pilgrimage. 

They were there to check out such features as waterless urinals, modular furniture, in-floor wiring for phone, data and power, and high-efficency heating. There's also grass-and-gravel parking lots that prevent stormwater runoff — and pollutants — from rushing into nearby Viaduct Creek. 

Creating the park involved removing asbestos and underground storage tanks from the abandoned former Glendale Hospital, where 15,300 square metres of space were renovated. An additional 21,830 square metres of new office buildings were added to the 14-hectare site near Camosun College's Interurban campus. 

The appeal of a green building for high-tech companies is that it can attract the best and brightest to work there, said Gann. "It's important for them to have a healthy work environment," he said. 

Apart from being energy efficient, the park offers space with better air quality and lighting than in older offices. Located in a park-like setting, the tech centre is linked to other parts of Saanich by bike paths, has a fitness gym and even a "wellness centre." 

The tech park opened in the summer of 2001, not the greatest timing given the economic impacts of the dot-com crash and the "war on terror." But after a slow start, 55 per cent of the office space is leased now by 12 companies employing more than 500 people. 

LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization formed by the American building industry to set standards for "high-performance, sustainable buildings." 

It has a checklist for projects covering such issues as building sites, water and energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality and innovative design. 

A system of points is awarded for various criteria leading to basic certification and higher silver, gold and platinum ratings. 

It looks at such issues as how well a building is served by public transit and whether it has facilities for cycling commuters, uses local and recycled materials and provides work space with natural light and views. Using ecologically certified wood and paint that emits low amounts of chemicals in the air are other pluses in the LEED checklist. 

VITP is one of only two developments in B.C. with LEED certification. The other is a municipal building in White Rock. But cities such as Portland, which has established its own LEED standard and where 27 buildings are in the process of being certified, have bought into the idea. Every new municipal building project in Portland is required to be LEED certified. 

The interest in Canada is reflected by the establishment of the Canadian Green Building Council, an offshoot of the American parent, with standards adapted to meet Canadian needs. The council runs an office in VITP with headquarters in Ottawa. One of the prime issues with Canadian buildings is energy use. In this country buildings account for 40 per cent of greenhouse gases, so any improvements in efficiency can help meet federal targets to cut the gases that contribute to global warming. 

Victoria Coun. Denise Savoie, a strong LEED advocate, said the city missed an opportunity to have its $30-million arena certified. RG Properties, the Vancouver developer of the multiplex at the corner of Blanshard Street and Caledonia Avenue, has applied for the certification but it does not appear likely the building will have enough environmental features, Savoie said. 

Such issues as the parking lot planned for the arena count against the project, she said, while not enough work has gone into providing alternative transportation to the site. 

But Savoie said the proposed library at the Bay building on Douglas Street offers a wonderful opportunity, as do other future municipal buildings. "There's no point in putting up buildings today that are outdated," she said. "They are going to cost us more in the long run."