Still Going Green

Sustainability Plans & Equipment Help Create Eco-Friendly Facilities


We are more aware than ever before about the importance of the environment, and that the things we do on a daily basis can make a difference—good or bad. Recycling, using less plastic, composting and even using energy-efficient light bulbs are just some of the ways to make the environment a greener place.

To be more eco-friendly, parks, recreation, sports and fitness facilities have attempted to make a difference, too, and have continued to adapt and create facilities that have a smaller impact on the environment.

A Smaller Impact

Metro Parks Tacoma in Washington, for example, has adopted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) construction standards for all new facilities.

"Our STAR Center community center has received a LEED Gold Award. STAR Center features natural storm drainage, ground source heat pumps, natural ventilation and natural daylighting. It was constructed from recycled, rapidly renewable and low-emitting materials," said Michael Thompson, public information manager, business and innovation department, Metro Parks Tacoma.

"Our outdoor pools, Kandle and Stewart Heights, have solar hot water systems. Web-based MetaSys building control systems are used to regulate heating and ventilation at facilities, including Metro Parks' headquarters, the Center at Norpoint, Titlow Lodge, Point Defiance Park Visitors Center and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park," he said.

In addition, Metro Parks uses irrigation systems in conjunction with strategically placed weather stations to remotely control and monitor water dispersed in parks and athletic fields.

"Best management practices are employed to conserve turf and limit pesticide use. Metro Parks has 10 pesticide-free parks. Electric-vehicle charging stations are located at sites throughout our system. Pooled vehicles include both hybrid and all-electric cars. Newly developed park lands feature native and drought-resistant plants," Thompson said.

Amanda Aparicio, sustainability coordinator, facilities management division, Montgomery Parks, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), Gaithersburg, Md., said the M-NCPPC participates in the Montgomery County Clean Energy Buyers Group to ensure 100 percent of its electricity is supplied through renewable sources via purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs).

"In Montgomery County Maryland, all new construction or major renovation of facilities equal to or greater than 5,000 square feet adheres to the International Green Construction Code (IgCC)," she said.

"The IgCC sets baseline energy efficiency and resource conservation requirements for non-residential construction county-wide that aims to reduce energy consumption by 50 percent over the average building consumption baseline in 2000. In addition to adherence with the IgCC, the M-NCPPC facilities in Montgomery County fitting these criteria are constructed to achieve LEED Silver or equivalent standard status," she added.

To be more eco-friendly, parks, recreation, sports and fitness facilities have attempted to make a difference and have continued to adapt and create facilities that have a smaller impact on the environment.

At Portland Parks & Recreation (PP&R) in Oregon, its "track record in this area has been remarkable, including grassroots efforts from community, and PP&R leadership and staff commitment as well. Our bureau's programming, places and people embrace these concepts," said Mark Ross, public information officer for Portland Parks & Recreation, also noting that Portland Parks & Recreation is the only parks system in the nation certified as Salmon Safe, and was first recognized as such in 2004.

An example Ross shared of a "green" building in Portland involves the East Portland Community Center (EPCC), which was certified as LEED Platinum in 2009.

According to the EPCC Business Plan, the EPCC has incorporated a number of sustainability practices, including the fact that it is one of the four big centers participating in the bureau's Energy Challenge, where staff periodically review facility use patterns and work with building maintenance staff to increase efficiency of utility usage.

PP&R also is "assessing whether the occupancy sensors will help contain energy costs and consumption. These were added to a couple of the storerooms. In other areas, staff manually turn off/leave lights off when space is not being used." And, the "natatorium has light sensors that turn off the lights when there is adequate light coming through the windows."

What's more, the following sustainable building elements have contributed toward attaining LEED status:

  • Rooftop solar photovoltaic panels generate 15 percent of the community center's energy needs and include a solar hot water heater that preheats water for showers.
  • 100 percent of stormwater is retained and treated on-site.
  • 30 percent potable water savings is achieved from low-flow faucets and low-flow showers that have metered controls.
  • Innovative pool filters significantly reduce the chlorine needed to treat the water and reduce the amount of water used by as much as 1 million gallons annually.
  • Structural materials were used as finish materials throughout, reducing the overall material usage by 25 percent compared to a typical building.
  • Heat recovered from the pool's air exhaust is re-used to heat the pool water.
  • Light monitors facing north and south maximize natural illumination and reduce energy used for electric lighting by 60 percent.
  • Extensive recycling efforts diverted more than 95 percent of construction waste from the landfill.

"Portland Parks & Recreation is a leader in the city of Portland's move toward renewable energy," said Portland Parks Commissioner Amanda Fritz. "The bureau's efforts in this area have been remarkable, and have included grassroots involvement from the community as well as the full commitment of PP&R leadership and staff. PP&R's programs, sites and people are becoming a model of how city government can embrace sustainability, while reducing costs to taxpayers."


PP&R Director Mike Abbaté also said, "Portland Parks & Recreation continues to make a significant contribution toward the city's commitment of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. The bureau takes pride in leading the way as Portland looks for even more ways to increase sustainability, to reduce Portland's environmental footprint, and to lower costs and extending the life of our equipment and facilities. It's an effort that benefits every Portlander, now and in future generations."

Speaking from his own experience, Jose Avina, CEO of Sacramento Eco Fitness, a human-powered fitness facility in California, said "fitness facilities have begun to think smarter when it comes to the equipment they install in their facility."

For example, Avina's facility chose to purchase a line of cycles that works to harness the power gym-goers produce through their everyday workouts, and put it back into the grid. When plugged into a power outlet, the human energy that's generated converts to utility-grade electricity for the gym or facility.

Avina said the cycles store the energy created through the workouts that his facility's members produce.

"We can then store and use that energy to power our facility—helping us do our part for the environment," he said.

He added that the cycles "have allowed us to capture the energy generated by our gym and turn it into electricity. We also recently installed a battery wall that stores the energy created from the cycles, along with the energy from our solar panels, allowing us to run off of our own power."

Dustin Soderman, associate director, facilities and operations, Arizona State University, noted that "Parks and recreation departments around the country are looking for ways to be more sustainable.

"This can occur in both indoor and outdoor spaces. New construction (or older retrofits) are converting toilets and urinals to low-flow or waterless," he said. "Especially in the southwest United States where water is a premium, these programs and efforts are helping to make a direct impact on water use reduction."

Energy-Saving Strategies

There are different ways to save energy and reduce costs, with Thompson noting that Tacoma's sustainability plan, adopted in 2015, calls for major reductions in the use of water, electricity and natural gas.

The goal of Tacoma's sustainability plan is to further limit the park district's environmental impact and enhance the livability of Tacoma. For instance, part of the plan is to "reduce overall water consumption per acre by 3 percent per year for 9 percent savings by December 2018" for parks and outdoors areas, as well as "reduce electricity consumption by 3 percent by December 2018 to 17.66 kilowatt hours (kWh) per square foot" for facilities and buildings.


The plan's executive summary stated that, "Early in the process, the sustainability steering committee grappled with one basic question: 'How can Metro Parks Tacoma reduce its environmental footprint when the agency is growing to meet our citizens' needs and desires?' While MPT may not be able to reduce the overall consumption of utilities with the addition of new community centers, pools and parks, the District can set targets to ensure sustainability on a square-foot or per-acre basis. Therefore, applicable targets are calculated per area to account for and normalize growth within the district."

In another example, M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks in Maryland currently is constructing nearly 2.5 megawatts (MW) of ground-mounted solar arrays across two park sites, to help conserve energy.

"These projects, completed through a long-term power purchase agreement (PPA), allows Montgomery Parks to benefit from clean, renewable solar energy with no upfront costs," Aparicio explained. "These projects will simultaneously lower utility bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and contribute to clean and resilient energy resources within the region."

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), daylight fixtures or other efficient low-energy lighting solutions are prioritized and used in place of incandescent, halogen or fluorescent lights. Additionally, where practical, indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures are fitted with programmable or occupancy/motion sensors.

"The program to convert parking lot lights to energy-efficient LED technology began nearly 10 years ago with a pilot-project at Olney Manor Recreational Park that replaced 80 traditional metal halide and high-pressure sodium lights with LED fixtures," Aparicio said.

The key to being eco-friendly is committing to it in all aspects, not just one—that's how facilities save both money and energy while helping the planet.

Since implementation of the pilot project, the M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks staff has received only one request for maintenance service of the LED lighting in the parking lot since the original installation. Though LED technology costs more up front over traditional lighting, the cost savings in maintenance and energy consumption over their lifetime cannot be understated. LED lights produce high-quality illumination and, on average, consume anywhere from 30 to 60 percent less energy over traditional lighting for similar applications.

Aparicio noted that high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that meet EnergyStar or equivalent standards are installed in all new and retrofit construction projects. Additionally, exposed piping and ventilation ducts are insulated to LEED Silver or equivalent standards. What's more, facility thermostats are replaced with programmable and Wi-Fi-enabled units. These units allow for real-time remote programming, assessment, troubleshooting and, oftentimes, resolution of HVAC system issues.

"Being able to remotely make system adjustments and address issues allows for greater system control and efficiency. This also reduces the need to mobilize technicians out to sites for small issues. However, when technicians are mobilized, they are better prepared with important diagnostic information to complete the job," Aparicio said.

At Portland Parks & Recreation, regenerative filters are used in pools. "As we renovate PP&R swimming pools, such as the existing Grant Pool and Matt Dishman Pool, where work has been completed in the last two years, we are using a regenerative filter system that uses far less water than a traditional sand filter," Ross said.


"We also have installed ultraviolet (UV) systems that reduce the amount of combined chlorine in the pool. This increases efficiency. It reduces the amount of times that we have to backwash our filters. This practice will be in place if we build any new pools going forward," he said.

In addition, gymnasium lighting retrofits have been completed in multiple PP&R community centers. High-performance T-5 fluorescent light fixtures were installed in the fall of 2011thanks to Energy Efficient and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) grant funding.

"T-5s are a new generation of high-efficiency lights that often replace metal halide and magnetic ballasted T-12 fluorescent lights, providing higher-quality light, and lamps with a much longer life, up to 10 years. PP&R electric bills fell by $1,700 as a result of this upgrade," he said.

At Peninsula Park Community Center in Portland, daylighting is used to conserve energy. The center has large spans of windows. However, in the winter, the large spans of glass tended to result in a lot of lost heat, and a cold interior for the building.

But in 2011, Portland Parks & Recreation repaired old wood to replace broken panes and hardware, and to add energy-efficient storm windows. The work also preserves the historic look of the site and appeal of the windows, and greatly improves indoor comfort and helps cut wintertime heating bills.

When it comes to efficient water use, the Portland Water Bureau and Portland Parks & Recreation also have made efforts to install weather-based, centrally controlled irrigation systems in parks and low-flow components in buildings. Eighty PP&R parks currently use this network, which includes localized weather stations and soil moisture sensors. Each newly developed park is equipped with the necessary components to monitor and manage the irrigation systems, replenishing only the water required.

When it comes to innovations in design, modern facility design has incorporated a wide variety of sustainable options. Large windows with reflective glass increase natural lighting in a space, while rejecting the sun's heat, paints, glues, custodial products all are made to have a lower impact on the environment and should be considered.

Soderman added that people often think about lighting when talking about sustainable facility management, and for good reason. "The strides made in lighting efficacy over the past five to 10 years have been dramatic. Many facilities were (or still are) using high-wattage metal halide lights. These lights were a mainstay in parks, athletic and recreational venues since coming onto the scene in the 1960s," he said. "They have the ability to produce a lot of light, but are not efficient."

An example of cost savings (paired with energy savings) was replacing 30 450-watt HID lights with 130-watt LED lights.

"The overall payback on the project was less than two years, and then each year's energy cost savings equaled $5,000," Soderman said.

"There are, of course, many other sustainable things that can be done to increase overall sustainability. Some companies make water bottle fillers that are connected to water fountains. Many times, government grants can be applied for to pay for units like this," he added. "At a previous building I managed, in 4.5 years, more than 3 million bottles of water were saved by using the refilling feature."

Meanwhile, Avina noted that other than sustainable equipment, facilities can install eco-friendly light bulbs (LED) and use eco-friendly paints and cleaning products.

"All of these things help to not only conserve energy, but save the environment," he said. "I think the key to being eco-friendly is committing to it in all aspects, not just one—that's how facilities save both money and energy while helping the planet."

Design Innovations

When it comes to innovations in design, Soderman said modern facility design has incorporated a wide variety of sustainable options.


"Large windows with reflective glass increase natural lighting in a space, while rejecting the sun's heat," he said. "Paints, glues, custodial products all are made to have a lower impact on the environment and should always be considered."

At Brookside Gardens, an M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks facility, a 25,000-gallon capacity underground cistern was recently installed as part of the renovation of one of their greenhouses. Rainwater is collected from the roof of the greenhouse and is stored underground in the cistern to be used for on-site watering of plants.

"At a facility that relies on water resources to support the beautiful gardens the community loves, this is a great example of conserving water by reducing demand on potable water resources," Aparicio said.

In addition, "rain barrels and cisterns are being installed, where practical, to collect rooftop runoff for reuse in a variety of applications from supplying water for nearby landscape installations, to supporting some of the water needs of our asphalt operations," she added.

Pope Farm Nursery, another M-NCPPC Montgomery Parks facility, has been using a drip irrigation system for watering plants since 2011 as a strategy to improve efficiency, reduce water consumption and promote plant health. In 2016, the drip irrigation system was used to efficiently water nearly 5,000 trees and more than 500 shrubs, and the plants were later used in reforestations and other planting and landscaping projects on M-NCPPC parkland.

Also, M-NCPPC, Montgomery Parks currently is working on a new facility, Maydale Nature Center, which, when completed, will be a small-scale net-zero facility with features such as rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, solar panels and other sustainable building and design elements.


"This facility will be used to provide the community with environmental activities and educational programming," Aparicio said.

Meanwhile, Thompson noted that a recently opened state-of-the-art commercial greenhouse in Tacoma has its own weather station set up to automatically adjust interior temperature and ventilation systems as needed for optimum plant growth.

"Separate water lines are used for irrigation and fertilization, saving water that otherwise would be needed to clean out a single line," he said.

Finally, Avina noted that some of the best innovations he has seen are the "expanded use of solar panels—especially in sunnier climates like here in California. It's great to see businesses and families using them as a way to create alternative power."