New Green Building Standards are Gaining Popularity

By David Hammel


Builders and planners of public sports and recreation facilities should be aware of the increasing popularity of a national voluntary movement to apply stringent "green building" standards to new construction and major renovation projects.

Created by the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, the standards were originally designed primarily for privately built commercial buildings. But, the standards—known as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards—are steadily capturing the attention of local government officials concerned about energy costs and environmental waste and pollution.

Only about 40 projects across the country have so far received one of the four levels of certification offered by the building council. However, more than 600 other projects had registered their intent to apply for certification by the end of last year, with about a quarter of the applicants representing municipal building projects.

With their year-round, extended operating hours and energy-intensive swimming pools, recreation centers are high consumers of energy and prime candidates for the LEED process.

One of the first municipal recreation centers in the country to go through the rather arduous LEED certification process was the North Boulder Recreation Center in Boulder, Colo. Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture of Denver was selected in the fall of 2001 to design a major renovation of the recreation center and help meet the lengthy list of LEED guidelines necessary for eventual certification.

In addition to promoting "whole-building," integrated design processes, it is the hope of the building council that the LEED standards will evolve into a common standard of measurement and definition for "green building." The council also seeks to help prevent false or exaggerated claims by owners and builders, often referred to as "greenwashing."

The LEED standards are aimed at encouraging design and construction practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the negative impact of buildings on the environment and their occupants in six broad areas:


Points are awarded for activities in each category with a total of 69 points possible. The most points (17) are available in the energy efficiency category, while the water efficiency and design categories offer the fewest (five each). A minimum of 26 points are required for certification, 33 points for silver-level certification, 39 points for gold level and 52 for platinum. The North Boulder Recreation Center renovation, completed this January, obtained the silver-level certification.

The $11.5 million renovation significantly increased the size of the 1974 facility to a total of approximately 61,000 square-feet. An eight-lane competitive pool and 3,300-gallon hot tub were built adjacent to a large family-friendly leisure pool complete with water slides (one of which is handicap accessible), interactive features and zero-entry access. The center's popular gymnastic area was greatly expanded, and additional dance, yoga and multipurpose rooms were added. A family locker room was created, and existing showers and locker areas were refurbished and expanded. Additional staff offices were built, and the center's entrance and drop-off area were redesigned to improve pedestrian and traffic flow.

In terms of size and cost, the most significant LEED-related activity incorporated in the center is a $265,000 solar water heating system. Thought to be the largest solar unit installed in the United States in the past 20 years with 5,700 square-feet of collector surface, the system is expected to reduce natural-gas consumption by 50 percent. The city of Boulder also purchased wind energy from a regional supplier to supply 50 percent of the center's electricity requirements.

Double-paned, low-e insulating glass windows were installed to filter the amount of solar radiation and reduce air-conditioning requirements. And, new high-efficiency boilers operate at 20 percent greater efficiency than the old boilers.



40 percent of the world's total energy use

30 percent of raw materials consumption

25 percent of timber harvest

35 percent of the world's carbon-dioxide emissions

16 percent of fresh water withdrawal

40 percent of municipal solid waste destined for local landfills

50 percent of ozone-depleting CFCs still in use

Source: Worldwatch Paper #124

In addition to energy-efficient design, the LEED rating system places considerable emphasis on recycled and environmentally sustainable materials.

In renovation projects, points are given for preserving significant portions of the original shell, thereby reducing the need for new building materials. Also, bins for recycling glass, paper and plastics are located throughout the center.

Asphalt from the old parking lot was recycled, and old air-conditioning and heating units were either reused, reinstalled in other city facilities or salvaged for parts. The large, esthetically pleasing structural beams located throughout the center were made from waste-reducing compressed wood strips known as parallel strand lumber. New benches and lockers in the locker rooms are constructed of recycled-plastic materials that are particularly resilient to damage caused by moisture and humidity. The carpet binding is made from recycled materials as well.

In order to improve indoor air quality and reduce levels of volatile organic compounds, special low-emission paint, carpet and adhesives were used in the renovation. Special sensors located throughout the center automatically control carbon-dioxide levels, and thermostats in every room allow for the efficient use of heat and air conditioning.

Outside the center, the liberal use of drought-resistant plantings is expected to significantly reduce water use. A large detaining pond was dug behind the center to contain and reduce storm water runoff from the property. Exterior lighting was designed to prevent the flooding of the night sky and be unobtrusive to nearby residential neighbors. Six recharging outlets were installed in the parking area for possible future use by electric cars. In addition, the size of the parking area was limited in order to encourage the use of alternative and public transportation to get to and from the center, which is located on a bus route and near a bike path.

LEED points are also given for the use of locally produced equipment and materials with the intent of reducing transportation costs and environmental impacts. All the sandstone used on the exterior of the center was quarried in Lyons, Colo., about 15 miles from Boulder. The concrete blocks used throughout the center were also manufactured locally.


By deciding to adopt the LEED process for the recreation center renovation, the city of Boulder committed to spending considerably more upfront than it would normally have had to spend. The extra costs associated with following the LEED guidelines are estimated at more than $500,000. The renovation was paid for through a 25-cent sales tax passed by Boulder voters in 1995, as well as revenues from the Colorado Lottery and Art in the Park funds.

The city expects to recoup much of the added costs through an estimated 37 percent annual reduction in energy costs. Major additional costs, including the solar panels, are expected to be recovered within 12 years.

Saving money through increased energy efficiencies, while important, was only one part of the equation that led Boulder City Council to approve the LEED standards.

As Mayor Will Toor told local reporters, "To me, the idea of spending a couple percent more in order to have something that protects the atmosphere and relieves the environmental burden on our life-supporting earth is a no-brainer."

City officials are considering whether or not to use the LEED standards for other city-funded projects. They are also hoping to use the recreation center renovation as a demonstration for the private sector about the feasibility of using environmentally friendly standards. Officials in Seattle have announced that all future public buildings in that city will be built to meet at least a silver level of the LEED rating system.


Additional information about the LEED certification process can be obtained by going to the U.S. Green Building Council's Web site at or writing the council at 1015 18th St. N.W., Suite 805, Washington D.C. 20036.

While still in its relative infancy, the LEED system is clearly gaining momentum in various parts of the country. The process is not perfect and is continually being refined by the building council. But the goals are notable and worthwhile. They certainly deserve the attention of everyone involved in the building industry in general and in the construction and planning of municipal projects in particular.

David Hammel is vice president and principal at Barker Rinker Seacat Architecture of Denver. He can be reached at

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