The Green Column #48

New green environments benefit 35,000 Lincoln citizens

May 4, 2011—In 2006, Lincoln voters approved a $250 million bond election for additions, retrofits, and new school facilities for the Lincoln Public School District. Since the authorization of remodeled and new accommodations for more than 3,000 additional students, there have been bonded and supplemental contracts awarded for more than $350 million dollars for new construction for Lincoln Public Schools (LPS).

The projects thus far have accommodated additions and/or retrofitting of 39 existing facilities and construction of 5 new schools.

Early in the planning stage, but after the approval of the bond election, the district administration determined that the several planned projects might present an opportunity to rethink design and construction policies. The most recent major constructions had occurred in 1995, with the incorporation of new technology for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (geo-thermal based heat-pump systems as contrasted to the old-style technology for forced-air refrigerated systems).

In the intervening time, dramatic national recommendations had occurred in “green” design strategies lead by the US Green Building Council and their so-called LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). By now the district had good performance data on the heat-pump systems and new guidelines to consider for the new projects.

Scott Wieskamp, Director of Facilities and Maintenance for LPS, asked the question, “Should we consider new design criteria that will result in ‘high performance’ facilities and better satisfy LPS’s commitment toward sustainable practices?” In other words, can we design and construct this round of facilities in accord with the new “green” standards promoted by the LEED standards?

There was one major barrier to a positive answer for the question. The budgets assembled and approved for the bond election did not include additional funds for constructing green facilities. The first step toward the question was to prove, or disprove, the general belief that to build for green criteria would be more costly than “conventional” construction.

By running detailed assessments of two of the buildings previously constructed in the 1990s (the Scott and Lux schools), plotted against the new LEED standards, at a Silver Level (or second tier of performance standards), a combined team of LPS facilities specialists augmented with community architects, contractors and engineers was able to prove that new construction could meet the LEED standards at the silver level at essentially no additional cost.

This system-by-system, and almost brick-by-brick assessment meant that every new project in the bond program, whether an addition or a new facility, could feasibly be designed and built to gain all the immediate and long-term reductions in operating costs while having added advantages of better health of the occupants, easier maintenance and longer life for the facilities, and also result in greatly reduced negative impacts on the environment of our community.

Now, LPS was prepared to create new policies, procedures, and performance standards for design and construction. Communication of these new expectations became the immediate new challenge. In preparation for the work, every architect, contractor, and many sub-contractors in Lincoln received a pre-contracts letter and invitations to orientation meetings from LPS stating, in part, “the Lincoln Public Schools District desires to foster higher performance school facilities that at a minimum”:

  • harmonize with the natural landscape
  • consume less energy
  • integrate day lighting into lighting strategies
  • conserve materials and natural resources
  • enhance indoor environmental quality
  • safeguard water, and teach principles of sustainable design.

Today, according to Wieskamp, almost five years from the public bond authorization, we have completed 44 projects that were constructed “on time, within the budget, and with new green, high performance characteristics.” The key green and sustainable outcomes are these:


  • Energy systems that require approximately 50 percent less energy for day-to-day operations.
  • A corollary reduction in the carbon footprint of each facility, due to reduced consumption of coal-created electrical power.
  • Affordable all-seasons operations making more, and more efficient uses of the facilities possible.
  • Conservation of water resources.
  • Incorporation of native, more drought resistant plants and landscaping features; reduced impacts on sites and surrounding neighborhoods from storm-water runoff.
  • Use of recycled and conservation-based, renewable materials.


  • Reduced risks of “sick building” syndromes; increased levels of healthy indoor air quality.
  • Higher levels of human performance within the buildings.
  • Fewer absentee days for health related reasons.
  • The heat-pump HVAC systems give individual teachers greater control of the indoor environment of their classrooms.
  • Students have the opportunity to learn about environmental conditions, and teachers have the opportunity to use the buildings as teaching tools for environmental education.


  • Low-energy consumption lighting and electrical fixtures have been incorporated.
  • Low-flow water fixtures installed to reduce water consumption.
  • The geo-thermal heat pump HVAC systems require less maintenance, are adjustable within individual classrooms and spaces, and can be remotely controlled with electronic control systems for higher levels of efficiencies according to demands.


  • The buildings and systems have distinct cost savings in both near-term and long-terms due to reduced energy consumption profiles.
  • Lower maintenance requirements and higher productivity profiles for the occupants also contribute to the long-term values of facility operations.
  • Site development costs are reduced due to natural landscape practices.

Public Policies

  • The LPS has new models, with multiple uses and program activities to evaluate for revisions to operations and design/construction policies for future growth and development.
  • Higher levels of facility performance for lower levels of public funds will likely be expected of all growth communities in the future.

The success of the 2006 bond construction program should give the Lincoln citizenry new confidence about the efficiency of use of our public funds. The quality of these facilities matches and enhances the quality of public education in Lincoln. LPS has concurrently set a new, green standard for all public facilities and construction in Lincoln.

© Lincoln Green by Design