Facility Profile - March 2009
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A Natural Fit

Recreation Complex at University of California, Santa Barbara

By Dawn Klingensmith


he design of the student recreation complex at the University of California, Santa Barbara, was inspired by nature in both subtle and dramatic ways. The latest addition to the complex is an eye-grabbing edifice that stands out among the campus's more traditional buildings while blending into its natural surroundings, including the magnificent Santa Ynez Mountains off in the distance. An architect photographed the mountains in the early evening, when they were awash in violet light, and then used that same color on the building's exterior. Further tying it to the landscape, the building is made up largely of floor-to-ceiling windows with spectacular views.

"When you look out from the building, you see all these wonderful colors in nature that resonate with the architecture," said Jon Spaventa, who directs UCSB's Department of Recreation, as well as the Department of Exercise and Sport Studies.

Not only is the recreation complex's newest building (Rec Cen II) reflective of nature, but as of last year, its original counterpart is highly protective of nature. The original building (Rec Cen I) first opened 14 years ago, and in the past three years UCSB has made some operational changes and retrofits to qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for an existing building.

LEED, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a voluntary rating system promoting the design and construction of sustainable buildings, while LEED for Existing Buildings focuses on addressing operating inefficiencies. Buildings can qualify for basic certification or for Silver, Gold or Platinum designations. In 2008, Rec Cen I became the first facility of its type to attain LEED for Existing Building certification, having reached the Silver level. And improvements being made over the next year or so could make the building eligible for Gold or Platinum certification, according to Gary Jurich, assistant director, Department of Recreation.

"No other recreation center has done this. We were the first to go through the process and the first to be certified," Jurich said.

To qualify, UCSB reduced the rec center's waste by 55 percent, increased recycling by 70 percent, and substantially reduced electrical, natural gas and water usage.

To get a handle on the waste situation, trash was gathered for a week and then weighed and picked through. Those who did the sorting quickly realized that paper towels used to wipe down exercise equipment accounted for a huge amount of the facility's waste, as people were using much longer lengths than necessary. The university has since switched to pre-moistened antiseptic wipes that peel off, one at a time, from a roll.

"People use them more sparingly, and they're recyclable," Jurich said.

The university also switched to waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets, and installed flow restrictors in the waterlines. High-intensity-discharge lights were replaced with energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs.

Then, on Rec Cen II, UCSB installed a $1.48 million rooftop photovoltaic array to convert sunlight into electricity. By producing 70 percent of the power needed to run the building, the solar panels will pay for themselves in 11 years, Jurich said.