Feature Article - September 2009
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Green Up

Trends in Eco-Friendly Facility Design

By Jessica Royer Ocken

It has gotten a little easier to love the earth.

Although constructing recreation buildings (or sprucing up the ones you have) in a green or sustainable way still takes some extra planning and effort, it's not a task reserved solely for those who crunch granola while hugging trees and admiring their huge budgets. Costs are coming down, and in a lot of ways, green design just makes sense—whether it's saving on energy costs, conserving water, providing a healthy atmosphere for patrons or being a good steward of resources that tops your list of priorities.

"Five or 10 years ago, [sustainable design] was something new that we would present to a client and try to educate people about," said Robert (Bob) McDonald, AIA, LEED AP, senior principal at Denver's Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative. "Now almost everyone is aware of it. They've heard of LEED [the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification standards], and they're interested in it. It's being adopted a lot more frequently."

The technological innovations, sustainable materials and design/construction techniques that make a building greener are being used more broadly in all types of projects (not just recreation), so they're easier to find and less expensive to use, and as they conserve energy, they also lower operational costs. Think LED lights and motion sensors to automate temperature and lighting controls, for example. In addition, when you take into account the purpose of recreation buildings—promoting exercise and healthy entertainment—sustainable design is a particularly good fit. "A healthy building and the well-being of the public go hand-in-hand," said Edgar Farrera, AIA, LEED AP, director of sustainable design for Marmon Mok Architecture in San Antonio, Texas.

The eco-aware architecture firms at the forefront of green design for recreation facilities note that many of their projects are on college campuses. "Colleges and universities are increasingly under pressure from students and donors to be good stewards of environment," Farrera explained. "Many have policies for sustainable building, and the same for communities and cities. Many cities have voluntarily adopted green building standards."

This means green building requirements for park districts and community recreation structures across the country may not be far behind. "Eventually, in another 10 to 15 years, we won't even be writing about LEED," said Erik Kocher, AIA, LEED AP, a principal and partner at Hastings & Chivetta, an architecture firm based in St. Louis. "It will just be what you do." In fact, many eco-friendly firms, such as those we chatted with for this story, say their basic approach to building design is often green enough to earn LEED certification without much extra effort. This gives them, and their clients, the freedom to get creative and push for LEED silver-, gold- or even platinum-level certification.