About 20 Law School students are lobbying the University to set higher environmental standards when it develops plans for a recently approved Law School building project.

The Environmental Law Society, a group of law students concerned with environmental issues, wants the construction plans to exceed the University’s environmental standards for its buildings. The students want the project’s plans to meet standards set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, which evaluates buildings based on various environmental criteria. The rating system’s criteria include the availability of nearby public transportation, the materials used in the buildings construction and the building’s water efficiency.

In an effort to convince the law school to follow LEED standards, the students have met with the building committee, written letters to the Law School’s newspaper, collected signatures for a petition and spoken before the University Board of Regents.

Last month, the regents approved the $102 million project, which includes a 100,000-square-foot academic building on Monroe Street and a 16,000-square-foot student commons building between Hutchins Hall and the Cook Legal Research Building. The project will also upgrade Hutchins Hall and the Cook Legal Research Building.

Hartman-Cox, the Washington, D.C.-based architecture firm hired for the project, has not yet completed schematic drawings for the project.

Law School student Mark Shahinian, a member of the Environmental Law Society, said the University would improve the University’s reputation for environmental stewardship by asking architects and engineers to meet higher environmental benchmarks. He argued in favor of LEED certification at last month’s regent’s meeting.

Shahinian said Law School administrators have been receptive, but haven’t yet agreed to follow LEED standards.

Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University’s facilities and operations, said the University doesn’t need the designation to be environmentally friendly. She said LEED certification provides “significant benefits,” but also great costs.

“The University is more interested in implementing the appropriate elements to achieve energy efficiency and being more environmentally friendly than we are at putting money to an outside organization so we can get a label,” Brown said.

Shahinian said cost shouldn’t deter the University from seeking LEED certification.

“I mean, the cost is minimal,” he said.

According to a U.S. General Services Administration report commissioned to estimate costs for developing green facilities based on the LEED ratings system, LEED certification would cost about $.50 per square foot of a new building. At that cost per square foot, the project would cost about $60,000.

“It doesn’t seem like a big deal for us, especially for the benefits it gives,” Shahinian said.

The new Ross School of Business building and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital are both expected to be LEED-certified after student groups pushed the Business School and University Health System.

The Dana Building, home of the School of Natural Resources and the Environment, also underwent extensive renovations to gain certification. The building received gold certification from LEED in 2005.

Shahinian said the same process could be followed in this case with the Law School.

“You can build a building that you call green,” said Shahinian. “You can build a building that you say meets LEED standards. And then, the next step is, you can build a building and certify it to meet LEED standards. We’re asking them to go to that last step.”

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