Chicago may be known as the "Second City," but it's the first to have a skyscraper with a "gold" rating from a major environmental group. The 51-story office building at 111 S. Wacker, in the heart of the city's West Loop business district, was recently given a gold "core and shell" certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program

Image courtesy of James Steinkamp Photography.


Chicago may be known as the "Second City," but it's the first to have a skyscraper with a "gold" rating from a major environmental group.

The 51-story office building at 111 S. Wacker, in the heart of the city's West Loop business district, was recently given a gold "core and shell" certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The designation certifies that the building's basic elements, such as the structure and essential parts like the HVAC system, met the council's guidelines and goals for a "sustainable" or "green" building. It's the first such building to ever win the LEED-CS designation.

Since 2000, the Washington, D.C.-based council has been grading U.S. offices, hospitals, schools and other structures for environmental performance. So far, about 400 buildings have been awarded "platinum," "gold," "silver" or "certified," with another 3,000 scheduled to go through the process.

Buildings that meet the voluntary LEED specifications, which can cover everything from light bulbs to office carpeting, save energy and typically use more recycled materials than other structures of similar sizes.

Image courtesy of James Steinkamp Photography.

Goals

It was an important goal for developer John Buck Co., which erected the building on the site of the former U.S. Gypsum Co. headquarters, even if energy use isn't most tenants' main concern, said Buck Co. spokesman Dan Jenkins.

"A tenant's overhead costs include rent, taxes and utilities, and building operations and employee costs," Jenkins said. "Generally, the cost of utilities is less than 1 percent of the total - so reducing building energy consumption becomes more important environmentally than it is monetarily."

It's also important for employees, since LEED regulations take their well-being into account, Jenkins added.

"Employees account for more than 80 percent of a tenant's total costs," he said. "So the productivity benefits that result from measures taken under the LEED program become very important financially. Studies show that good lighting - natural light - increased ventilation and temperature comfort, as well as clean air, all contribute to higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and turnover. Even a 1 percent improvement in productivity is significant."

Attempting to meet the certification meant special challenges for the companies selected by developer John Buck Co. for the project. That was certainly the case for officials of Hill Mechanical Corp., the Chicago-area mechanical contractor that did the HVAC design-build work on the 1.4 million square-foot high-rise.

The skyscraper 111 S. Wacker in Chicago was the first high rise to be awarded a gold "core and shell" certification from the U.S. Green Building Council as part of its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Image courtesy of James Steinkamp Photography.

Mandates

"There were several prerequisites on the HVAC side that we had to maintain," explained Jason Rahn, a project engineer with Hill Mechanical. "Fundamental building-system commissioning, minimum energy performance and reduction of chlorofluorocarbons in HVACR equipment were all part."

The company chose equipment from Carrier Corp., the radiant-heating Airfloor from Aero Systems Inc., and Johnson Controls and Trane.

It's typical for LEED requirements to demand that contractors buy materials made within 500 miles of the construction site, or use a certain amount of recycled materials.

In the case of 111 S. Wacker, developers picked designs and resources that let in more natural light while blocking the extra heat of the sun's concentrated rays. They installed vegetation-based "green" roofs and used paints that give off less harmful gases, all of which gave them more points under the LEED system.

But it's not enough just to say the products used are "green." Program requirements insist that the energy savings or improvements in employee well-being are quantified.

And since the program puts such a great emphasis on certifying performance, companies that specialize in the testing and balancing of HVAC systems often find themselves in demand. That's certainly been the case for William Niehoff, owner of Fresh Aire Test & Balance in Lemont, Ill., who says his company has been hired to work on several LEED-eligible structures since 2002.

For Fresh Aire officials, hired by Hill Mechanical to check 111 S. Wacker's air and hydronics systems as part of the commissioning process, working on the skyscraper meant paperwork - a lot of it.

"The specs are a lot different," Niehoff said. "I's have to be dotted, T's have to be crossed and everything is signed off on."

And unlike most projects, "You're working pretty closely with the commissioning team," he said.

Bill Niehoff of Fresh Aire Test & Balance (left) shows a balometer reading, which measures airflow, to Jason Rahn, project engineer with Hill Mechanical Corp. Hill did the HVAC system design-build work at 111 S. Wacker. As part of the building commissioning process, Fresh Aire performed the testing and balancing work for the air and water systems at the property. Image courtesy of the Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association.

Future

Despite the extra paperwork and sometimes-stringent demands on suppliers and contractors, LEED approval is worth it, according to officials such as Buck Co.'s Jenkins and Mike Opitz, LEED certification manager with the U.S. Green Building Council.

Jenkins said almost all of 111 S. Wacker's tenants were interested in its certification, with some now requiring LEED's seal of approval for buildings they'll occupy in the future.

"We believe that in the not-too-distant future, LEED certification will be a basic requirement of larger, sophisticated tenants," he added.

Opitz gives a statistic to prove the point.

"In 2000, the dollar value of LEED-registered buildings, meaning buildings which had registered to go through the LEED process, was $600 million," he said. "Today, the dollar value is $8.3 billion. That's an increase of more than 10 times."

LEED may also increase the resale value of certified structures: According to a February article in the Chicago Tribune, 111 S. Wacker cost $270 million to build. The paper says Buck Co. and other investors sold the building in January, less than a year after it opened, for $386 million.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.