Feature Article - September 2012
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Maintenance & Operations: Fitness Facilities

Green in the Gym

By Tammy York

Are you in the market for a new or renovated gymnasium? Thinking of sustainability could save you thousands in maintenance and operating costs. Whether you are seeking LEED certification, Net-Zero, or just want to be a little more environmentally conscious, there are a myriad of steps you can take.

"In several jurisdictions, it is written into the codes that the building needs to meet specific requirements for sustainability," said Kari Frontera, regional practice area leader, Sports and Recreation; IIDA (International Interior Design Associate); LEED AP BD&C (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional, Building Design and Construction) with Gensler, a global architecture, design, planning and consulting firm. "Ultimately, the goal of sustainability is to protect the environment and to not deplete our natural resources, but at the same time to design a building that meets the end users' needs."

Gensler recently completed a major renovation at George Washington University's 100,000-square-foot Charles E. Smith Center. The LEED NC Gold facility hosts varsity and intramural athletic programs, cultural events, concerts, convocation and graduation. A few of the enhancements included redesigning interior spaces, upgrading building systems, improving accessibility and adding high-end alumni club lounges.

Before your gymnasium building committee starts on the green pathway, there are several key points to keep in mind. The most important is that your goals might exceed your budget for the project. Many design firms will provide three different levels of commitment, and it is up to the committee to determine which one suits the LEED certification or Net-Zero design goals and budget.

Buildings are expected to last at least 50 to 100 years or more, and that longevity gives planning committees some wiggle room. The long-term investment of constructing a sustainable building will pay off in operating and maintenance savings, as well as increased productivity for people using and working in the building.

What Is Your Building's Fuel Mileage?

"The first thing we look at is the fuel mileage of their building. Almost no one knows how much energy their building consumes on a square foot basis," said Bill Maclay, AIA, LEED AP and principal of Maclay Architects, which designs buildings and communities that are models for healthy, inspired living, advancing to a carbon neutral and ecologically sustainable future. Maclay Architects designed The Putney School's Net-Zero Field House.

Confused on how to find your energy-per-square-foot mileage? Take the energy loads of electricity, natural gas and oil and convert your consumption into kWh or BTUs. By taking the fuel consumption and putting it into the same unit of measure, it will be easier to compare usage and identify patterns. Benchmark your building against other similar buildings by researching energy usage for different types of structures on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star web site.

Since a robust green design optimizes the reduction in operating costs and maintenance costs over the long term, sustainable design is a wiser investment that can be proven in dollars and cents. For example, a $3 million building might cover just the basics of what you need for the location. However, an increase to $4 million for the building to be sustainable could pay off in a 20-year time span depending on energy prices. Once you are not paying for energy, the operating costs for the building decrease significantly.

By looking at the long-term goals, it is easier to see the forest. Which would you rather do: raise an additional million dollars to create a sustainable building that will reduce your long-term operating costs or continually raise money to cover your operating expenses? Will it be easier for you to sell to your benefactors on creating a building that has a zero or negative balance on the energy produced vs. energy used? Or would it be easier to sell them that you need more money to pay for rising fuel costs?

Progressing design firms can provide cost comparisons for sustainable building design levels and materials, as well as data on the return on investment so you can make informed choices rather than guessing about what the energy-saving product might do for you. However, any firm that strongly promotes a specific product is suspect.

"Be realistic and understand what you want to commit into the program and how much effort you can put in based on a maintenance and operation standpoint," Frontera said. "Look at the lifecycle of the building rather than just the costs."

"The cheapest options might be lower today, but if that material isn't durable you are going to have to replace it every couple of years and the replacement costs are going to be higher," said Amanda Thomas, sustainable design specialist; AIA (American Institute of Architects); CDT (Construction Document Technologist); and LEED AP BD+C with Gensler. Determine the real cost by having your design firm provide an analysis of LEED credits to upfront costs to the costs over the life of the building including daily or weekly operating and maintenance costs.