After all of the excitement and anticipation, Donaghey Hall is finally open, for the most part. I wanted to learn more about its eco-friendly features. I started my research when I came across a document for UCA’s search for a contractor on the project. It said the school was aiming for LEED certification, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
It is a scoring system the U.S. Green Building Association created to help businesses and homeowners make the most environmentally sustainable choices when building and renovating homes and businesses. Depending on the criteria the building meets, it can earn the certification alone, the silver certification, the gold one or the highest — platinum.
Usually ,architects can help with this, which is why I called Patty Opitz, a LEED architect working at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects in Little Rock, who worked on the project.
She told me that UCA decided not to go for LEED certification. My first guess was that it was just too expensive because high costs usually scare companies away from this kind of certification.
However, if UCA had gone for LEED certification, and even shot for platinum, students could save money. UCA would have less of a negative impact on the environment and a better impact on society and the community.
Students are already forking over thousands of dollars in tuition costs to attend UCA, so it may seem absurd at first to expect students living in housing to pay off the money for a platinum-certified building with renewable energy, water and wastewater management, green power and carbon offsets, etc.
But all of these things could save the students a lot of money in the long run. Donaghey Hall was paid for with a bond issuance, which is then paid off by the income the building brings in.
Eventually, with all of these fancy LEED features, the money Donaghey Hall saves in utility costs would allow the building to be paid off in a much shorter time. The more money UCA saves and has to take care of itself, the fewer tuition raises and money that has to come out of students’ pockets. Not only would these platinum features save money, but they would help lessen the invasiveness of the new building on the environment.
What was once a peaceful corner next to a patch of beautiful hundred-year-old trees is now paved over and will create more waste from that area than ever before, such as light pollution and opportunities for more energy consumption.
If UCA had gone for the LEED certification, the minimum requirement was the reduction or careful management of these things, according to the LEED certification scorecards. If it had the platinum certification, Donaghey Hall would have been one of the least invasive buildings out there.
Imagine what could have been accomplished with that platinum certification. Imagine the example UCA would have set for other universities in Arkansas and for the community here in Conway.
I hate to be one to shove the issues of global warming and climate change down throats, but we don’t have much time to turn these old habits around. UCA had the chance with the construction of its latest two buildings, but it missed its opportunity.