Fleming Roberts

Have you ever pulled into a train station and felt like you had really arrived somewhere else, because the station felt like part of this new town’s identity? Did you ever tour your local fire station as a kid, and if you were very lucky, slide down that shiny silver pole? Did you ever go to the local jail, and… well, actually that’s none of my business.

Public structures really help define the personality of a town, and they’re where the actions that define history take place (e.g. the making of landmark laws, the rapid deployment of first responders, and teaching the next generation of leaders).

When governments decide to commit iconic public spaces to LEED, they send a powerful signal that the town’s identity values sustainability, resilience, health, innovation, and responsibility. For more on local and state LEED policies, see this shiny new market brief.

Here is my list of super cool LEED-certified public projects that you may not have heard about, and a shout out to the civic leaders and policies that made them possible.

1. King St. Station, Seattle, WA

It may not be King’s Cross where the Hogwarts Express picks up wizards, but King St. Station in Seattle is still pretty magical. Platinum-certified last December, the station went through a massive renovation that increased its size four fold, yet it is projected to use 68 percent less energy. They restored original design elements from its construction in 1906, including a gorgeous ornamental ceiling. Seattle requires that any new construction or major renovation of a city building over 5,000 square feet achieve LEED Gold or better certification.

Photo credit: Flickr user John Westrock

2. Toyota Elephant Passage, Denver, CO

You might think that the coolest part of the LEED Platinum-certified Toyota Elephant Passage at the Denver Zoo is the elephants. Nope. Excuse me, but what this project is doing with poop is fascinating. Yes, poop. The site has a gasification system, which will convert more than 90 percent of the zoo’s animal waste and human trash into energy to power the exhibit. This will eliminate 1.5 million pounds of trash going to landfills annually. Denver has a policy that requires hat any new construction or major renovation of a city building achieve LEED Gold or better certification. (Photo set)

Photo credit: Flickr user Denver Zoo

3. Soldier Field, Chicago, IL

While there may not be bears at the Elephant Passage — da Bears are at Soldier Field. The Chicago Park District became environmental leaders in the sports community by giving Soldier Field, the oldest NFL stadium in the country, a sleek green makeover that made it the first NFL stadium to achieve LEED certification. I bet they recycle a fair amount of beer cans. For more on how sports teams are going green, take a look at the Green Sports Alliance, and take a look at what they did for the 2014 Green Apple Day of Service. Also of note, Chicago requires that all municipal buildings be LEED Silver, and Illinois ranked #1 on the Top 10 States for LEED list for 2013. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Esteban Monclova

4. Taft Information Technology High School, Cincinnati, OH

It would be wrong for this list to not include a LEED-certified school, as an incredible part of this movement is the public sector recognizing that where kids learn matters. The leader in green schools is the state of Ohio, clocking in at 158 LEED-certified public schools. For an example of the amazing work being done in that state, check out the LEED Platinum Taft Information Technology High School in Cincinnati, which is sporting one of the region’s largest green vegetated roofs. Cincinnati also runs a tax abatement program for LEED homes that has been hugely successful. Props!

Photo credit: VSWC Architects

5. 5.4.7 Arts Center, Greensburg, KS

Natural disasters can require towns to undertake massive rebuilding projects, which creates an opportunity to reimagine their identity. In Greensburg, Kansas, after the town was toppled by a devastating tornado, they took this chance to become one of the greenest places in America. The city council passed a resolution requiring that all new city-owned buildings greater than 4,000 square feet must be LEED Platinum, which was a pioneer policy at the time. Now, the town’s website boasts a new slogan “Rebuilding… Stronger, Better, Greener!” Just look at that 5.4.7 Arts Center, the first LEED Platinum building in Kansas. That is leadership. 

Photo credit: Flickr user moderns-r-us

6. Lake Area High School, New Orleans, LA

Another green schools program that needs some golf claps is the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, which is committed to bringing high performing, LEED Silver certified schools to an area in need after Katrina. Lake Area High School was one of the early RSD projects, sporting notches 8 feet high on the entry columns to mark the flood waters. This innovatively designed school has all classrooms on the upper levels in case of future extreme weather events. There are also some great programs constructing LEED-certified, high performance homes in New Orleans. Check out the Make it Right Foundation and the Holy Cross Project. Or come see some buildings yourself when you attend Greenbuild 2014!

Photo credit: Flickr user The Center for Green Schools

7. Cedar Rapids Public Library, Cedar Rapids, IA

I promise this is the last post-disaster rebuilding effort on the list, but aren’t they impressive? In 2008, Cedar Rapids, Iowa was severely damaged by a major flood. As the city sought to rebuild their damaged public structures, a race ensued between the Central Fire Station and the Cedar Rapids Public Library, both heading for LEED Platinum. The fire station may have gotten its certification first, but the library opened first, so it takes number seven on the list. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Gale Cengage

8. Westlawn Gardens, Milwaukee, WI

Another town who is a green boss is Milwaukee. Their Housing Authority owns the Westlawn Gardens redevelopment project, which has achieved the highest level of certification for any LEED 2009 for Neighborhood Development project. The city redeveloped a severely distressed public housing project into an award winning, mixed-income community. This 24 acre wonderland has got it all folks: a large community garden, rain gardens, geothermal heat exchange, and over 100 homes built to LEED Platinum specifications. This community is 100% leased for obvious reasons. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Milwaukee NNS

9. Pasadena City Hall, Pasadena, CA

Because this is my list, I must include Pasadena City Hall. Beyond being a totally respectable, LEED Gold building, it’s also totally famous. Pasadena City Hall plays Pawnee Town Hall on one of my favorite TV shows — Parks & Recreation. Fun fact: as part of the seismic retrofit to make it more quake-proof, they built a moat around it. So for a little while, it was a castle. 

Photo credit: Flickr user Michael Locke

10. City Hall, Chandler, AZ

Last but not least is a super futuristic looking building out in Chandler, Arizona. Chandler has a LEED Silver (or better) public building policy. Their LEED Platinum City Hall covers two blocks and is a proud city center. It has all the bells and whistles of a LEED building, but extra pizazz was added an art gallery and a wind animated art installation/shading system. The Assistant City Manager, Marian Norris, made it clear why local governments choose to use LEED for public projects. "We didn't just choose LEED for LEED's sake, it makes sense economically," explains Norris. "It's about fiscal responsibility; we want to be stewards for the taxpayers."

Photo credit: Flickr user Michael Locke

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the coolest LEED public projects in the U.S. For more on why state and local governments choose LEED, see our new two page brief. For more information on LEED activities in the states, check out our dynamic state market briefs. Also, keep an eye out for our soon to be announced policy database, a great place to browse leadership policies like the ones that made these projects possible.