SBJ/December 4 - 10, 2006/This Weeks News

Green days for sports design

Green is in the details. Just ask the HOK Sport designers developing the Washington Nationals’ environmentally friendly new ballpark who have spent many working hours thinking about peanut shells.

FedEx Forum has designs on approval
from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Those little shells can cause big problems by clogging a sophisticated filtering system that stadium architects and engineers have designed for the ballpark, said Susan Klumpp, HOK’s project manager. The system cleans the water used to wash down the stands before it goes back into the Anacostia River next to the site.

“There is a lot of interest in keeping the river pollution-free and how we treat this water,” Klumpp said.

There’s a lot of interest in the environment in general among building designers these days, and that concern is quickly spreading in the sports world. Sports architects are encouraging their clients to embrace green, or sustainable, design, which seeks to reduce use of nonrenewable resources and cut waste.

A growing number of their sports clients, encouraged by millions of dollars in potential long-term energy savings, are listening, and some are driving the efforts themselves.

The D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission directed HOK to make the Nationals’ new home an environmental standard-bearer in big league sports. It wants the ballpark to be the first stadium certified under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system when it opens in April 2008. The Memphis Grizzlies, meanwhile, are taking steps toward making FedEx Forum the first LEED-certified big league arena two years after moving in.

“It’s not a trend; it’s not going away,” said 360 Architecture’s Chris Devolder. “Almost every RFP we get has a statement about saving energy.”

The Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition whose board of directors includes HOK and Turner Construction officials, started the LEED program in 2000 as a voluntary benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings. So far it has certified only two buildings tied to sports’ highest levels — the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, home to speed skating at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility in Allen Park, Mich., which opened in 2002 — but several more are being considered for approval.

“There are opportunities for arenas and stadiums to pursue LEED,” said Tom Hicks, the council’s vice president for LEED. “They are well-positioned to reclaim water efficiencies and reduce construction waste, and [building owners] are starting to pay close attention to that.”

Buildings score points toward certification by meeting green standards in six categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process. For stadiums and arenas “the challenge is a majority of LEED points come from energy savings,” Devolder said.

That’s also where big potential for long-term savings lies. The Lions recouped their $500,000 investment in green upgrades within the first three years of operating their headquarters and practice facility by reducing energy consumption by 30 percent annually, said Tom Lewand, the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The Detroit Lions’ HQ/training center was
among the first sports facilities to be certified.

But at big league venues, utilities and climate-control issues are shaped by huge open spaces, tens of thousands of visitors and, in the case of stadiums, encroachment of the elements, creating problems that office buildings don’t encounter.

In just one example, it’s hard for cold-weather NFL stadiums to conserve energy, said Jon Niemuth, Ellerbe Becket’s design director, when suite holders sitting in heated units open the windows to hear the crowd noise.

The same is true for stadiums’ wasting thousands of gallons of water to accommodate 70,000 people eating, drinking and using the rest rooms, said Nathan Appleman, an HOK project designer.

Green buildings provide answers such as developing mechanical systems that keep conditioned air confined to one area within a big space, and recycling “gray water” from sinks to operate toilets, said Rod Wille, Turner Construction’s senior vice president and manager of sustainable construction.

The price of solving those problems? Industry research shows that meeting the minimum LEED standard adds about a 1 percent premium to the construction cost, and that number tops out at 6.5 percent for buildings that achieve LEED platinum, the program’s highest standard.

“The challenge is getting ownership to buy into LEED from the point of making an upfront capital investment,” said Tom Proebstle, a partner at Crawford Architects.

In the nation’s capital, meeting LEED’s minimum standard for the Nationals’ ballpark, which has had its share of budget disagreements, will comprise less than 1 percent of the $311 million construction cost, Klumpp said. The commission provided about $400,000 for LEED upgrades, spokesman Tony Robinson said.

Some states and localities offer tax credits and other incentives that can take part of the sting out of going green, but even without those the decision is financially justifiable, one designer says.

“The perception is it costs extra dollars and there is some money up front, but what is more important is the savings on an ongoing basis,” Devolder said. “In that case, it’s cheap.”

The Lions estimate they have already recouped
their investment in green upgrades.

Not everyone that’s pursuing sustainable design elements for their buildings is doing it solely for the potential long-term savings.

“We asked ourselves at the end of last season how we could get better operationally, and being more environmentally friendly made sense,” said Steve Zito, the Memphis Grizzlies’ senior vice president of arena operations. “We will become LEED-certified as an indirect result,” under a rating system for existing buildings.

The NBA club and Servicemaster, a Memphis-based cleaning company and a Grizzlies sponsor, teamed up to start a recycling program this season and eliminate harsh chemicals when wiping down the rest rooms and other fixtures.

The Minnesota Twins’ proposed $522 million ballpark, set to open in 2010, is required to pursue LEED certification as long as the Minnesota Ballpark Authority obtains enough grant money to pay for the costs of certification.

Oregon started its State Energy Efficiency Design program in 1991. Autzen Stadium and Reser Stadium, at the state’s two largest universities in Eugene and Corvallis, respectively, have completed renovations that conformed to those SEED requirements, said Ellerbe Becket and HNTB officials working those two jobs.

Washington state has a similar energy code, and Crawford Architects is working on sustainable design for the Seattle Seahawks’ new practice facility on the banks of Lake Washington, Proebstle said.

The Seahawks practiced at the Lions’ green facility before the Super Bowl in February, and three months later announced they would build their new practice complex where an old logging mill and mining camp stood. Owner Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. paid to clean up and restore the brownfield site to its natural habitat.

“In a community like Seattle, [environmentalism] is part of the culture and it is important for Paul to understand that and react appropriately,” Proebstle said.

Culture also shaped the thinking at the University of Connecticut, where officials wait to hear if the new $40 million Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center in Storrs will be certified in the spring (see graphic).

College campuses are generally home to environmentally friendly attitudes. Plus, students walk, take the bus or ride bicycles to class, which score LEED points by reducing the number of parking spaces required, preserving green space and cutting down on vehicle emissions, HOK’s Appleman said.

The opportunity to take a leadership role in the collegiate ranks appealed to UConn, and the school hopes to see other athletic departments go down the same green path, athletic director Jeff Hathaway said.

“Nobody was sure if it was the right building to do it and nobody forced us,” Appleman said. “But the further we got into design it became more apparent that it could be tailored toward LEED certification.”

Putting a sign on the wall acknowledging LEED certification is not the end-all to developing an environmentally responsible facility, however, and building owners can implement many operating efficiencies on their own, designers said.

“The LEED process can be a bureaucratic bottleneck and of all the thousands of buildings built, at most only a couple hundred get certified,” said Bill Hartman, managing director for Gensler, the architect that designed the Lions’ practice facility. Beyond the construction costs, there are registration fees, design and construction review expenses and the expense of hiring someone to manage the document process.

“The benefit for LEED is if someone were to challenge that a building was really not environmentally friendly, having a third party verify is a way to say yes and bring positive PR,” Hartman said.

The Lions, who follow the green philosophy of team vice chairman William Clay Ford Jr. (Ford Motor Co. has three LEED-certified facilities), are happy to get that positive PR when it comes, but they also admit that it has its limitations.

“We have tours and recognize we have a story to tell, but I would be lying to myself if I thought people wanted to know about this,” Lewand said. “They are more interested in finding Roy Williams’ locker.”

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