Feature Article - November 2011
Find a printable version here

Green For Green's Sake

Eco-Friendly Facilities & Operations Yield Economic, Environmental Savings

By Wynn St. Clair

The way Americans approach environmental issues took a dramatic turn in May 1999, when Will Rogers challenged the country to rethink its reasons for going green.

"Show me a healthy community with a healthy economy and I will show you a community that has its green infrastructure in order and understands the relationship between the built and the unbuilt environment," said Rogers, president and CEO of the Trust for Public Land.

His words, spoken at the White House-sponsored Town Meeting for a Sustainable America, turned the conversation away from the idea that environmental stewardship was solely a moral imperative. In the 21st century, it's has quickly become a fiscal one as well—a fact that recreation managers are embracing with groundbreaking structures and creative initiatives.

Soaring energy costs, for example, have led to increased interest in so-called green buildings, structures designed to be energy-efficient, water-conserving and protective of air quality, among other things.

Several facility managers nationwide have turned to the LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—Green Building Rating System to help them achieve their eco goals. The voluntary standards and certification program recognize structures that are more environmentally responsible, healthier and profitable.

The rating system offers four certification levels for new construction (certified, silver, gold and platinum) that are achieved via credits in five green design categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

When the University of Arizona began an expansion project on its student recreation center, school President Robert N. Shelton's construction policy called for the project to earn at least a LEED silver certification. It was an ambitious goal, but the project team welcomed the challenge with a design and construction practices that increased longevity while reducing the negative environmental impacts and improving occupant well-being.

As the team, led by staff Senior Architect May Carr and Facilities Project Manager Brian Dolan, completed the design they realized that, because the UA already has so many sustainable programs, systems and design standards, the campus was accumulating enough preliminary points on the SRCE project to possibly achieve Gold certification. Midway through the $27.5-million project, team members learned that platinum certification, the highest level for sustainable construction, was in reach at no extra cost to the project.

In the end, the 54,000-square-foot building, which essentially doubled the facility's existing recreation space, exceeded the Platinum threshold by four points and opened in November 2009. The certification made the UA Student Recreation Center Expansion project the first LEED platinum university recreation facility in the country.

"It is absolutely unique and phenomenal to set out to design and construct a facility with a silver certification goal and to then achieve platinum—but that is exactly what happened," said Peter Dourlein, the university's assistant vice president of planning, design and construction. "When we consider that some folks set out for silver- or gold-level certifications and do not achieve them, this is a real testament to the university's ongoing sustainable practices. This is also reinforcement for selecting a high-quality, collaborative team and a process for design and construction that works toward all parties crossing the finish line together. Being sustainable and green isn't just a catch phrase, it's moving up on the shopping list that excellent students, faculty and staff use to determine where they live, learn and work. The campus recreation staff here not only recognized that, but led the charge to achievement."