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Posted on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 7:59 a.m.

Going green: Washtenaw County's new district court facility achieves LEED Silver certification

By Ryan J. Stanton


Conan Smith, chairman of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, shows off the LEED Silver award the county won for its new 14A-1 District Court.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Washtenaw County officials were presented with an award at Wednesday's county board meeting, recognizing the new 14A-1 District Court facility for achieving LEED Silver certification for energy efficiency and environmental design.

The certification comes from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction.

The new facility opened at 4133 Washtenaw Ave. in Pittsfield Township last July. The project was done in combination with the county's jail expansion at a cost of about $37 million.

County Commissioner Rob Turner, an electrical contractor from Chelsea, praised the energy efficient features of the new facility as "the way of the future."

"By going with green technologies, what you're going to end up doing in the long run is you're saving money," he said. "Not only are you being responsible in how you're building it, you're going to be energy efficient. That is really being responsible with the citizens' money."

The exact certification is LEED NC 2.2 Silver, according to Tower Pinkster, an architecture and engineering firm with offices in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids.

County officials worked with a project team that consisted of Tower Pinkster, HOK, Clark Construction, Becket and Reader and Robert Darvas Associates.

Following the U.S. Green Building Council's rating system, the project earned points across five categories: water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.

County Board Chairman Conan Smith, D-Ann Arbor, gave credit to Commissioner Wesley Prater and former Commissioner Jeff Irwin for pushing the county to start thinking about — and eventually adopt — green building standards about four years ago.

"LEED was growing, was on the rise, and we really hadn't done any work in that regard, so we had some conversations about greening facilities," Smith recalled. "We talked about a biomass incinerator out at the jail, and we couldn't get the votes to do that. But we could get the votes to do LEED-quality development for this project. And it's a first — it's actually a county board policy that has been a long time in the making coming to fruition."

Some of the project’s sustainable features include:

  • A high-performance building envelope
  • A white, solar reflective roof
  • Controlled daylighting in each court room and regularly occupied spaces
  • Low-emitting materials for a healthy interior environment
  • Decentralized heating plants
  • The use of local materials and equipment
  • 94 percent of the total wood-based building materials were harvested from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forests
  • 77 percent of onsite-generated construction waste was diverted from landfills
  • 24 percent of the total building materials content, by value, was manufactured using recycled materials
  • Low-flow fixtures contribute to water savings of 58 percent

David Shirley, the county's facilities operations manager, said the goal was to attain LEED certification at a minimum, so to achieve LEED Silver is exciting.

He said the county anticipates energy consumption will remain relatively flat with no significant increases even with the additional 83,000 square feet of new space.

The new facility features a single point of entry to the courthouse, sheriff’s administration and the jail, which officials say greatly increases security. The courthouse is comprised of three courtrooms, judge chambers, jury assembly and court clerk space. There also are secure holding areas for each courtroom with a direct connection to the jail.

County officials say the jail expansion was needed due to overcrowding. And the space where the previous 14A-1 District Court had been housed — in a retrofitted monastery built in the 1950s — had raised security concerns. The new court replaced and expanded the former Huron Valley Ambulance building next to the jail, offering more options for maintaining public security.

By using less energy and water, officials say the building saves money in operating costs and has a positive impact on the environment.

According to Tower Pinkster, the design will result in a 27 percent energy savings, translating to 447 tons of greenhouse gas emissions prevented from entering the atmosphere each year.

 Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.



Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 5:43 p.m.

Could it be the building wasnt certified gold because of the water fountain? The first category is water efficiency. . . Gotta love that the city is talking about how green the building is when one of the ways to make it better was to not include the fountain.

Peter Baker

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 4:32 p.m.

I was about to come on here and say "let's see how long until someones complains about this one," but the anonymous curmudgeon Macabre Sunset has beat me to it. LEED certification is not about special forests and feel good building processes, it's about building in ways that efficiently use resources, that in the long run cost LESS than cheaper built traditional methods. I don't see how anyone could possibly argue against building efficiently and saving energy in the long run. You can choose to pay a little more upfront and save much more money in the long run, or build as cheaply as possible and end up paying much more over the course of the building's life in energy usage and retrofitting. Just because it was a little more expensive early on doesn't mean it wasn't the most cost effective way to do it.

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Mar 18, 2011 : 8:47 p.m.

Check your Latin, I think you're mistaking the personal with the collective.

Peter Baker

Fri, Mar 18, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

And I'm sure you've never used an ad hominem argument. "No sentient being, surely, could believe the taxpayers have the capacity to pay that kind of money." – Macabre Sunset at 11:01 PM on March 17, 2011

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Mar 18, 2011 : 12:59 a.m.

Ad hominem arguments are always pleasant. That tells me what I need to know about Peter Baker. Often, with these "green" projects (and the special forests were mentioned in the article, not made up by me - well the elves part), the recoup of the additional expense is hundreds, if not tens of thousands of years in the future. I was interested in the actual numbers. Are they realistic? Or is this just green for green's sake?

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Mar 17, 2011 : 11:09 a.m.

Any estimate on how much it cost over the normal price of construction? How expensive was that little trophy Conan is grinning about? Could we have saved $15-$20 million by making Conan a special trophy of our own design? The reason these technologies aren't normally used (and we don't pay more to get our wood from special forests with recycled elves) is that it usually takes about a billion years to recover the extra cost. Has Conan magically discovered otherwise?