High School Targeted in the First Appeal of a LEED Certification

High School Targeted in the First Appeal of a LEED Certification

Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, Wisc. -- the first public high school to received a LEED-Gold rating -- will go down in the annals of green building history as the target of the first third-party appeal of a LEED certification.

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:


  • Northland Pines High SchoolEA1, 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 LEED-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 U.S. Green Building Council 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.

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 expensive 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 working to amend 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. 

Here is the USGBC's statement regarding the Northland Pines dispute:

USGBC stands by its conclusion that the Northland Pines High School project and project team complied with all the requirements necessary to achieve LEED-Gold certification. In response to a complaint, USGBC followed its certification challenge policy, which requires a thorough and technically rigorous review of the project. Given the vociferous and confrontational nature of the complaint, we further asked for two additional and separate technical reports detailing the expert professional opinions of highly regarded independent consultants. Their findings agreed with ours.

Anyone who has actually been through a LEED certification review knows that it is a dialogue between the project team and the reviewer. After reviewing the documentation submitted by a project team, the reviewer issues a request for more information in a “Preliminary Review.” The project team responds to any reviewer comments and resubmits. The reviewer then reassesses the project and issues a “Final Review."

The process USGBC used to deal with this appeal was similar to our standard process, but in addition to having the original submission and reviewing everything we normally review, we also had the complaint document. There were issues in the complaint document that were not (from our independent consultant’s point of view) adequately addressed by the 2007 submission, so we asked for and received additional clarifying documentation from the project team. This additional documentation answered all open questions and made it possible for USGBC and the independent consultants hired to provide their expert technical opinions to conclude that the project does in fact comply with LEED Gold requirements.

LEED’s intent, and USGBC’s mission, is about helping people learn about and understand how to design, build and operate better buildings. Buildings are complex systems of systems and any of the 100,000 of decisions associated with design, construction and operation can always be second-guessed. We are confident that our due diligence has been more than sufficient to put these issues to rest, and we are moving forward to focus our efforts where they do the most good -- advancing the market uptake of green buildings and communities that is at the heart of our work.

Shari Shapiro, J.D., LEED AP, is an associate with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP in Philadelphia. Shari heads the company's green building initiative. She also writes about green building and the law on her blog a www.greenbuildinglawblog.com, where her posts on this topic originally appeared.

Top image CC licensed by Flickr user steakpinball. Inset images courtesy of Northland Pines High School and U.S. Green Building Council.