With School District 65 scrambling to reduce the $25 million cost overrun for the proposed new 5th Ward School, eight of the 12 alternatives to the current plan would either reduce or eliminate so-called “green building” components, such as solar panels.

Interim Superintendent Angel Turner presented the alternatives Monday night along with her report on the overrun.

Environmental efficiency and sustainability were important to some constituents when the 5th Ward building was being designed, and they called for LEED ratings for the school.

LEED stands for Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design. An independent agency decides if a building will earn LEED certification, and if so, what type.

As approved by the school board in March 2022, the 5th Ward School would be built to LEED Silver LEED standards. That’s third in LEED’s four-tiered rating system for “green buildings” — Platinum, Gold, Silver, and just LEED Certified.

At a 5th Ward meeting this past April, some residents wanted District 65 to shoot for Gold, not just Silver, by adding a green roof to cover the top of the school.

At that time, then-Chief Financial Officer Raphael Obafemi said going for Gold would cost too much gold.

“If money was no object,” Obafemi said at the time, “we could do anything. But we have to make choices, so the green area on the roof has to go”

But now, with the new building’s cost skyrocketing from the original $40 million up to $65 million, the school board faces tough choices — keep going for LEED Silver status, aim for the less costly LEED Certification only, or forget about LEED altogether.

There are many variables in the 12 alternatives — will the school be K-5 or K-8, two floors or three, have a capacity of 600, 700, 750, 900 or 1,000 students.

But the options indicate that dropping efforts to meet LEED goals could cut $1.7 million to $2.3 million from the building’s cost.

Environmental activists would likely say that adding more expensive features now will help the local drive for carbon neutrality and also save money in the long run.

But with a $25 million cost overrun staring them in the face, that long run might be too long for the school board.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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