Board gives thumbs down to ‘green’ status

Win-win arrangement with builder questioned by some


Staff Writer

MILLSTONE — The new middle school building will be a leader in energy and environmental design in everything but name.

The Board of Education voted unanimously at its Dec. 13 meeting not to spend extra money for the school to achieve official certification for being environmentally friendly.

In March, voters approved a $34.5 million plan to build a new school that includes converting the current elementary school to a pre-K through second-grade school, and the current middle school to a third-grade through fifth-grade school.

The school, which will be built on a 114-acre site off Baird Road, is expected to open in 2006.

To achieve the environmental status — known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification — the board would have had to appropriate $15,000 to its architects, the Thomas Group, Princeton.

Board Administrator Brian Boyle explained that the certification process was basically public relations to fall in line with Millstone’s being an environmentally conscious community.

He said LEED certification was based on a point system, with particular items qualifying for certain points.

James Nichols, the architect for the project, said that former Gov. James McGreevey had issued an executive order that all schools and public buildings must follow LEED guidelines, as set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Without the executive order, for example, the district would not have used as much recycled material in the carpeting. The order also encouraged officials to use local suppliers.

Board member Patricia Coffey asked if the school would be a LEED building even without certification. Nichols said that although it would be, it could not officially be called a LEED building.

Board member Thomas Foley and board Vice President Mary Pinney asked Nichols if there would be any benefit to achieving the certification, or any drawbacks to not receiving it.

Nichols said that there would be no added benefit to official certification other than public relations, and that he “can’t imagine” any negatives.

“After all we have cut from this project, do we want to spend $15,000 for a pat on the back?” asked Coffey.

Due to soaring construction costs, the school board recently had to make $4 million in cuts on the new school.

She added, “There’s an awful lot we’re eliminating from this project.”

The board also voted to table consideration for appropriating $13,200 to the architectural firm for development of separate drawings for the area where soil is to be removed from the new school site.

The district had attempted to save money by arranging with Orleans Builders of Philadelphia — which is developing houses on the adjacent property — for an exchange of services.

Orleans could take the fill dirt it needs for its project from the school site in exchange for grading the school’s athletic fields since the school property has excess soil that needs to be removed.

Nichols had estimated a $200,000 savings to the district through this arrangement.

Superintendent William Setaro asked for a copy of the billing so board members could see a breakdown of the $13,200 fee, which amounts to $110 per hour for 120 hours.

In addition, there are fees for separate written specifications and meetings with the school, Orleans Builders, and attorneys and engineers from the township.

The original idea that selling the fill to Orleans would be a win-win situation “has become more complicated than we originally thought,” Nichols said.

“If [Orleans] just took [dirt] from anywhere and weren’t careful, it could be a negative or zero value to the district,” he added.

Nichols said his company had been working with attorneys for the board and Orleans to come up with a no-cost contract for the district. Boyle defended the arrangement, saying that without the soil exchange, the district would have to pay for grading.

He also said the $13,200 charged by the Thomas Group was for all the extra work the architects had to do, including drawing up separate specifications for Orleans and negotiating with the other parties.