Metal of Honor
Carbondale Recreation & Community Center in Carbondale, Colo.
By Kelli Anderson
o for the gold" may be the inspiration behind great achievement for most, but for the community of Carbondale, Colo., the goal for excellence has gone one step further—platinum. The Carbondale Recreation and Community Center recently learned that total points earned for energy-efficient designs in their newly constructed facility garnered a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certification.
This is a tremendous accomplishment, especially given that neither LEED Platinum nor Gold were the original goal for this modest community of 6,000.
"It wasn't our original intent," said Jeff Jackel, recreation director of the facility. "We just wanted LEED certification—not even silver or gold, let alone platinum."
According to Jackel, the project's pursuit of environmental excellence began with a simple suggestion from a design steering committee member who happened to be an energy-efficiency design manager familiar with the requirements.
By the time the project reached completion three years later, the community was proud to open a 14,500-square-foot facility that not only met the community's recreational needs, but that also boasts a near-zero carbon footprint.
The crown jewel of the project, a large iconic photovoltaic (PV) solar-paneled roof, provides two-thirds of the facility's energy needs alone. Combined with the additional energy savings of insulation, occupancy sensors, daylighting controls and high-performance glazing, electricity consumption has been reduced by 54 percent.
With hindsight's 20/20 vision, Jackel and his colleagues, John Baker, AIA and chief architect of J.R. Baker Architects Inc. of Carbondale and Eric Brendlinger, the recreation facility's manager, conclude that the overwhelming success of the project can be attributed to at least one critical element—a team-build approach.
"We feel that professional teamwork and open communication between all design and construction team members was key to the overall success of the project," Baker explained. "It is a process that will help reduce the possibility of construction change orders and cost overruns."
With the final project coming under budget, ahead of schedule and with award-winning accolades, Baker clearly knows of what he speaks.
However, having knowledgeable players matters, too—especially when it comes to going "green." Hiring a consultant is a must, but even before taking that necessary step, Jackel suggests doing your homework.
"I recommend that any consideration—before hiring a consultant—is get on the USGBC Web site to see the checklist for credits that you might get to give an idea of whether or not to pursue LEED," he said. "Don't be afraid of the LEED process. If you don't have that knowledge, someone in your community does and if you have to spend a few bucks to find out, it's money well spent."
And while fear of the unknown may be an obstacle for some, for many, it is the fear of high costs.
"The biggest concern for most is costs associated with LEED certification," Jackel said of the industry. "There's a rush to judgment that it's too costly. If they would just go and get on the Web site and see the checklist—even if not for LEED certification—they can see what to pursue that's green energy efficient. But if they can get enough points, they can hire a consultant to help look at the costs."
In the case of Carbondale, pursuing certification did require expanding the original budget. However, thanks to good consulting, additional funding from private foundations, grants, trusts and local business made up the difference.
But whether or not certification is the ultimate goal, energy-efficient design elements are not only financially smart in the long run, but they can also attract clients. "From the south side it all looks solar and always gets attention," Brendlinger said of the facility's dramatic PV roof. "They are also so impressed with the daylighting. Seventy-five percent of the building has daylight."
With eight skylights in the multi-use gymnasium, one in the lobby, and the cardio space surrounded with windows revealing the stunning surrounding landscape views, Brendlinger described the space as bright and happy, making people want to be there.
"The gymnasium gets the most comments about daylighting," he continued. "People are so happy to be shooting baskets without any electrical lights—that's virtually unheard of. Sometimes they'll even say they don't know why they're feeling so good, but I know it's the daylighting."
Maximizing available daylight and views with proper orientation was a key element in the Carbondale facility design. Combined with exterior window awnings, high-performance glazing and automatic photocell-based lighting controls, the facility's overall attention to lighting has made it a financial winner as well.
Other cost-reducing features include a commitment to specifying and using only low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials, such as their gymnasium flooring, to improve air quality and, of course, many water-conserving strategies.
"Water has become one of our most valuable resources and is becoming more scarce due to increased development and global warming," Baker said. "The recreation center has employed several water-saving strategies to promote water conservation."
While he conceded that many of the strategies are no longer new, they are effective, and that's what counts. Low-flow urinals, lavatories and showers, use of water-conserving landscape plants, and a storm-water runoff system are just a few of the elements that have reduced the project's total water usage by 56 percent.
In the end, whether it's gold or platinum, the environment, the community or just the bottom line, it's safe to say everyone's a winner.
"It surpassed everyone's expectations for sustainability, functionality and aesthetics," Baker concluded. "Everyone who uses the building can sense the inherent energy of its green design. They see the solar panels when they drive up, they smell the fresh air and enjoy the great outdoor views while they exercise indoors in natural daylight and they relax in a sustainable outdoor park. Every aspect came out better than we expected."
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