The Lakeland Mental health Center in Fergus Falls is dedicated to helping its patients achieve mental harmony with their surroundings.

Now that the center’s new building has been certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building, the center is in environmental harmony with its own surroundings, too.

“The LEED process started right as we were getting started,” said David Shultz, whose architect firm, Shultz and Associates, designed the building.  “It was integral to the whole design process.”

Actual LEED certification happened in November 2010, but Lakeland’s finance director Lynn Wolters said that the point was not simply to just meet the appropriate guidelines.

“We were looking at just being good stewards of our environment and being as energy efficient as possible,” she said.

Before a building can become LEED-certified, it must meet requirements in five different categories:  sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.  While efficient design and good energy conservation choices, like the decision to install a geothermal ground water heating system, helped meet some of the requirements, much of the LEED certification was achieved simply by not disturbing the environment around the building.

“Certainly the unique aspect is the site,” said Shultz of the property at 21333 County Highway 1.  The back of the building is nestled into a small forest, and native prairie landscape lies to its north.  The placement of the building allows the local habitats of woodland creatures and plants to be preserved while also creating privacy and a peaceful environment for patients and employees.  Offices where patients receive treatment are on the outer rim of the building and all have access to a wide window, where deer can often be seen in the woods.

“We wanted to have a very inviting, warm feeling to our building, which we think we’ve accomplished tenfold,” said Wolters, who thought back to the building’s open house last year (Lakeland moved to the site in February).

She remembered one person in particular who told her, “You have a beautiful building.  It’s well made, but it’s not so overwhelming that you don’t feel comfortable in it.”

The efficient design has also allowed Lakeland to save money.  When the building was first being built, Wolters said, contractors told her to expect to pay $1 per square foot of building per year.  Now, she said, Lakeland pays about 85 cents.

All of this is music to Shultz’s ears.  Shultz said that a “core value” of his firm is creating spaces that are environmentally and energy sound.  Though he’s happy about the fact that 31 percent of the building is made out of recyclable materials and that all decorative surfaces have very low levels of allergens or harmful chemicals, Shultz said the highest praise is that people can notice a positive difference.

“People using the building sense that it’s not just a building,” he said.  “The space is comfortable to them.”

Published in the Daily Journal, Fergus Falls, MN