Prospecting demands positive future orientation, hope, sometimes not even knowing what it is you might discover. We were hopeful prospectors on our first LEED project, not exactly sure what we might strike. We sought silver sustainability for the University of New Mexico (UNM) College of Education Building (COE); what we discovered was even more precious and rare, platinum. Getting there entailed chipping away at each sustainable LEED credit until we hit pay dirt, the first publicly-funded and second LEED Platinum building in New Mexico.

Gregory T. Hicks & Associates P.C. Architects was contracted by UNM to design a LEED Silver Certified building for its new COE Administration and Classroom Building, Phase 1. All new, state-funded buildings in New Mexico must achieve a minimum LEED Silver certification as mandated by Governor's Executive Order. Two of our staff, Jim MacGillivray and Jay Davis, are LEED APs, and our Principal, Gregory T. Hicks, has taken several USGBC courses, but this being our first LEED project, we participated in additional study in LEED certification and sustainable design. We also hired an experienced sustainable design specialist to serve as our LEED AP, our lead prospector, Susan Barnett.

Not knowing how easy or difficult it might be to achieve LEED Silver, the prudent approach was to strive for as many points as possible, so that if we lost a few points along the way we would still fulfill the obligations of our contract. UNM COE and other UNM staff championed this approach. Our initial strategy targeted LEED credits with minimal cost, those almost free, logical modifications that improve sustainability. Next, we focused on achieving four “Innovation in Design” credits, searching for ideas that would involve minor costs or creative design endeavor. UNM COE committed to a photovoltaic system for educational and research purposes as well as to purchase a renewable energy certificate. Our initial venture targeted up to 48 possible points, comfortably within Gold territory.

We submitted our project to USGBC for design review as the project went out to bid. The design review denied a few points in some areas, but serendipitously awarded a few extra points in other areas. UNM COE supported the prospects of achieving Gold so we provided additional information to successfully appeal denied credits, which brought us back up to a potential of 48 points, assuming targeted points were awarded during the construction review. At this point we knew we would certainly achieve Silver, possibly Gold.

Midway through construction, the COE Dean, Richard Howell, and COE Chief of Staff, Diane Gwinn, asked us if there might be a way to earn just 4 or more points to reach the 52 required for LEED Platinum. Steve Chavez, UNM Project Manager, strongly championed this effort. This seemed difficult, if not impossible at this juncture in the project, but we met with COE, UNM engineers, design engineers, LEED AP, and the contractor to brainstorm possibilities. We came up with eight possibilities, but not all were affordable, practical, or supported, so we whittled the eight down to five, but just before the construction review we lost one of the five, so we tried for four.

When the USGBC completed their construction review, we learned we had scored 52 points awarded LEED Platinum certification. Partnership of UNM COE, architect, engineers, LEED APs, and contractor created this success through a relentless “can-do” attitude throughout the project, plus some luck. Boring down deeply, we sought Silver and struck Platinum.

This narrative is organized according to the USGBC LEED credit rating system and highlights the sustainable accomplishments of the project along with lessons learned.

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