LEED Lab is a program operated by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that allows students to assess the performance of existing buildings on a campus and choose a building  where they will facilitate the LEED for Operation and Maintenace (LEED O+M) process with the goal of certifying a facility. The program offers a unique immersive learning opportunity for emerging leaders in sustainable building design and construction.

In 2015, Ball State became one of the first higher education institutions to join the LEED Lab program. Under the leadership of Janet Fick, Associate Lecturer of Construction Management, with assistance from James Jones and Robert Koester, the LEED Lab program has made steady progress on-campus. In November 2019, Ball States’ LEED Lab students successfully shepherded the David Letterman Communication and Media Building to LEED O+M certification – making Ball State only the fifth college/university in the world to certify a project through the student-driven LEED Lab program.

It was also during the Fall of 2019 that a new opportunity emerged for Ball State’s LEED Lab program. Sanford Garner, President and Founding Partner of RG Collaborative, approached Assistant Professor, Daniel Overbey, about the LEED Lab program regarding Ball State’s upcoming Multicultural Center, which was then being designed. It was an interesting proposition: a student-driven approach to LEED certification on a new construction project.

This had never been done before.

When Garner and Overbey approached USGBC about the notion of a LEED Lab pilot program for new construction they were met with some apprehension – and for good reason. Whereas ongoing operations and maintenance-related activities are relatively easy to align with a regimented semester-based academic calendar, the design, procurement, and construction processes for a new building are much more difficult align and several aspects of student-driven LEED certification on a new design and construction project would require highly specialized consultation and oversight.

LEED Lab has certified TWO buildings. In addition to Letterman, in December 2020 we certified the Glick Center for Glass at the Silver level. It makes ECAP’s LEED Lab the third university in the world to certify a SECOND building! – Janet Fick

Undeterred, RG Collaborative and the Ball State LEED Lab team move onward boldly. Garner, Fick, Overbey, and Koester helped coordinate a multidisciplinary student team from CAP including architecture, landscape architecture, and construction management. Leadership from the Ball State component of the Emerging Green Builders, a volunteer student group, stepped up and provided a steady leadership presence across numerous semesters. Moreover, myriad professionals from the Multicultural Center’s design team engaged the students.

The result has been trail-blazing exploration into the potential of the LEED Lab framework to provide an immersive learning experience for Ball State students to gain direct LEED experience on new building design and construction projects. This past year a CAP student/faculty group even presented this LEED Lab pilot project at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

The construction of the Multicultural Center – and thus the student-driven LEED certification effort – continues onward. However, the pilot program has already broken the mold on the potential for multidisciplinary immersive learning using the LEED Lab program.

By Daniel Overbey, AIA, NCARB, LEED Fellow
Assistant Professor of Architecture