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SD legislator, Board of Regents seek to do-away with green-building code

Sen. Ryan Maher, an Isabel Republican, has introduced Senate Bill 134, which seeks to save the state money by overriding a 2008 state law requiring public buildings seek a LEED Silver certification for sustainability. Maher, whose measure is supported by the state's board of regents, said the hitting sustainability standards wastes time and money, especially for new construction on college campuses.

FSA South Dakota capitol

PIERRE, S.D. — A plan to scrap so-called "green building standards" for new construction on state lands — including buildings on college campuses — has drawn early opposition from the state's architects.

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, Sen. Ryan Maher , an Isabel Republican, spoke in favor of his measure, Senate Bill 134 , before the Senate Local Government committee. He argued the state could save money by overriding a 2008 state law requiring buildings to be LEED-certified for sustainability.

Maher, whose measure received favorable remarks on Wednesday from representatives for Associated General Contractors and the South Dakota Board of Regents , said such requirements on new builds or renovations ran up project costs on public buildings in South Dakota and stymied efforts to further slim down the state college system's budget.

In one instance, Maher said the state spent over $480,000 to plant native grass that he said was eventually removed as the grass "looks like weeds."

"We aren't accomplishing anything other than spending a tremendous amount of money and government oversight and time wasted," said Maher, who noted securing LEED certification can take years.

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But the West River Republican stopped short of requesting a "do pass" vote for the bill, instead asking the committee to defer a vote until Friday, after opposition emerged from the South Dakota chapter of the American Institute of Architects , whose lobbyist said Maher's measure was shortsighted.

"These LEED standards... in many projects, they do provide significant cost savings for a building that in many cases will be around for 50-plus years," said Justin Smith, a Sioux Falls attorney.

LEED-certification is a rating system that scores buildings for their sustainability. Points to achieve the rating, according to the U.S. Green Building Council , come from a variety of factors, including the incorporation of recycled materials, installing low-flow toilets, or energy-efficient lightbulbs into a building's design.

Citing a nationwide, three-year period studied by the U.S. GBC, Smith noted over $1 billion had been saved in energy and utility costs with nearly $159 million saved in water costs.

Rick Bell, a resident of Rapid City and registered engineer, testified remotely that he'd be open to "practical" amendments but was in opposition to wholesale removing the building standards.

"I think it would take South Dakota backwards, said Bell, of SB 134 as currently written.

Since 2008, the Bureau of Administration seeks a LEED rating of silver or higher for any new build or renovation project north of $500,000 that exceeds 5,000 square feet.

Deb Mortenson, a Pierre-based lobbyist for the building chapter of AGC, noted that the MacKay Office Building, which houses the SD Department of Education and was renovated in 2009-2010, installed three electric car charging stations — since removed — "as part of the points they needed in order to get certified" with a LEED Silver certification.

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"LEED projects do, indeed, cost more, and some of the features that end up getting built into the building don't necessarily stand the test of the time," said Mortenson.

Heather Forney, the Board of Regents' assistant vice president for finance and administration, also spoke in favor of Maher's bill, saying "getting LEED certification is virtually impossible" in some renovation projects.

Following testimony, Sen. Herman Otten , a Lennox Republican, deferred the bill's debate and potential vote to Friday.

Nearly 70 state construction projects, from college dormitories to the State Vets Home in Hot Springs, have achieved LEED status over the last decade, according to a review of BOA certification reports by Forum News Service.

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