Goshen College shows us how


A unique green jewel of a building complex enhances a 1,150-acre natural sanctuary in Northern Indiana. Goshen College’s Rieth Village is the first LEED Platinum Certified building project in the state.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a nationally recognized design standard promoted by the U.S. Green Building Council that uses a point system to rate high-performance structures.

A total of 52 points is required for platinum rating — the pinnacle of environmentally sustainable design. Reith Village received 55 points for including earth-friendly components such as passive solar design, cisterns to recycle rainwater, locally harvested tulip poplar siding, solar panels and a wind generator.

Luke Gascho, executive director of Goshen College’s Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center, said the building complex is an expression of the Mennonite faith. “We’re not doing this just because going green is the cool thing to do these days,” he said. “We’re doing it because we feel it has a direct tie to our faith. As stewards of God’s earth we are to take care of everything and bring rest and renewal to the land.”

Planning began nearly a decade ago, Gascho said, when the college began exploring ways to increase Merry Lea’s utility as an educational resource — both for K-12 students as well as for the planned expansion of the college’s environmental science programs.

“When we started working on those programmatic developments we saw that we were going to need additional facilities,” he said. “And as soon as we started talking about facilities we agreed they needed to demonstrate low-level impact on the environment.”

Gascho began researching environmentally-friendly building projects and arranged to visit them, including the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, Colo.

Gascho was impressed enough to invite RMI to Goshen in 2001 to lead a design charrette. “In all, 30 people worked at setting the objectives for the building design and construction,” he said. The group included students, faculty, college administrators and architects.

Near the end of the session, Bill Browning, head of green building at RMI, asked Gascho if they would like to compare their design objectives to LEED standards.

“We realized it was a no-brainer because we picked our objectives and found a rating system that will help verify that we are really meeting the objectives that we set out to follow,” Gascho said.

The entire design was completed and broken into two phases. “All of Phase 1 is about 9,000 square feet,” he said. This includes two student cottages (residences) and a third cottage that provides classroom and office space.

Located approximately 30 miles away from the college campus, the site serves as an ecological field station for Goshen’s undergraduate environmental science programs and graduate level environmental education students.

As part of the site plan, designers included a constructed wetland that treats wastewater for the 32 residents without using any chemicals and very little energy. “The water that comes out meets Indiana standards for treated wastewater,” Gascho said.

He added that state and local officials were supportive of the constructed wetlands and that students monitor the water quality. “It’s become a great case study for the students,” he said.

The entire project is more than a case study for students; it also feeds growing interest in green building around the Hoosier state.

Bill Brown, vice president of the Indiana Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, said recently that his organization has experienced tremendous growth. “Membership in the Indiana Chapter climbed from 80 at the beginning of 2007 to 232 by the end of the year, an increase of nearly 300 percent.”

He added, “LEED-registered projects in the state went from 10 at the beginning of 2007 to 82 by the end of the year.” If all of those projects are built, Brown said, the construction value would exceed $2 billion.

But the value isn’t limited to monies spent. It’s also energy saved. “Potential reductions of waste and energy are 100 percent-plus,” Brown said. He noted that the goal for such “living buildings” is zero waste, zero net energy (carbon neutral) and zero net water use.

Reducing resource use in the built environment is crucial because recent U.S. Department of Energy figures show that commercial and residential buildings consume 40 percent of all energy produced in the country — more than industry and transportation. Additionally, structures use 72 percent of the electricity generated in the country and account for 38 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions and 38 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Brown, a LEED-certified architect at Browning Day Mullins Dierdorf, has been active in green building for years, having worked on the “Greening of the White House” in 1993. He said green building is “market-driven” in Indiana, spurred in part by increasing energy costs.

“The biggest savings most developers of office buildings are finding is improved employee productivity, health and retention,” he said. “They are also seeing increases in building valuation and they can get higher lease rates.”

For those who think going green is an expensive proposition, Brown pointed to a recent study by Davis Langdon, one of the world’s premier providers of comprehensive construction cost management services. The report states, “There is no significant difference in average cost for green buildings as compared to non-green buildings.”


Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College


Bill Brown’s Green Building Blog