The Benedictine Women of Madison’s Holy Wisdom Monastery in Madison, Wis., earned 63 out of a possible 69 points under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for New Construction version 2.2, making it the highest-rated structure within the rating system thus far. The sisters’ mission is to weave prayer, hospitality, justice, and care for the Earth into a shared way of life while working toward environmental solutions and teaching the importance of nature in daily life.

To achieve their goal of a sustainable structure, the sisters contacted Appleton, Wis.-based planning, design, and construction management firm Hoffman and sustainability consultant Vertegy of St. Louis, Mo., to replace its existing conference center. The project team eventually decided to replace the Benedict House with a smaller building designed to eventually achieve a zero-carbon footprint through future renewable upgrades.

The 34,380-square-foot, two-story building contains space for worship, retreats, concerts, conferences, lectures, interfaith dialog, dining, reading, and administration. Sustainable features include a white membrane roof, high-albedo paving surfaces, and permeable concrete to reduce the heat island effect; no permanent irrigation system, 1 gallon-per-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and low-flow lavatory and kitchen faucets; a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses 39 300-foot-deep closed-loop wells; and an accessible green roof.

Seventy percent of the project's site area was restored to native prairie habitat, creating open areas, and nearly all of the construction and demolition waste was diverted from the landfill. Photovoltaic cells on the roof generate 13 percent of the building’s energy needs. The goal eventually is to provide 100 percent of the monastery’s energy needs on a net basis from on-site renewable sources. An outdoor air delivery monitoring system is incorporated into the building’s ventilation equipment. Indoor air quality also was validated prior to occupancy through stringent testing.  Sustainable windows contain customized glass that, depending on their location in the building, eliminate the need for window blinds. Large windows throughout provide views and natural lighting.

Hoffman, which has experience with women’s religious communities and sustainability, headed the design and construction management. Vertegy provided support throughout the LEED process. Other team members include mechanical engineer Fredericksen Engineering in Mequon, Wis.; electrical designer Czarnecki Engineering in Pewaukee, Wis.; and plumbing engineer LGD Engineering in Milwaukee.