Green is the new school color at many universities. Education construction, which is valued at $53 billion for 2007, is the fastest growing sector for green building, according to McGraw-Hill Construction. In the past seven years, more than 8,000 new buildings have registered for Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification, and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which awards LEED certifications, has awarded the certification to 1,059 of those buildings. About 7 percent of those projects are for colleges and universities, according to the USGBC, a nonprofit organization with 11,500 member organizations.

The green campus trend, which includes sustainable design for student recreation centers, will continue to grow if the 400 college and university presidents who are part of the Higher Education Associations' Sustainability Consortium (HEASC) have their way. Members of this group have pledged to pursue climate neutrality on their campuses. The presidents are developing their own comprehensive plans to achieve this goal for their campuses, but each president is also encouraged to establish a policy that all their new campus construction will be built to at least the LEED Silver standard or equivalent, according to Katherine Otten, spokesperson for the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA), which is a member of HEASC.

“This is an area that is only going to become more important and more ‘real’ to our members as college and university presidents commit to sustainability and begin to implement plans that affect the operations of the entire campus,” Otten says.

NIRSA is working with its member colleges and universities to implement sustainable rec center design that improves air and water quality, conserves natural resources, reduces operating costs and optimizes life-cycle economic performance.

Student Support

The USGBC created a green building rating system as a voluntary, third-party certification to recognize high-performance green buildings that are more environmentally responsible, healthier and more profitable, according to the organization. Colleges and universities that are pursuing LEED certification can earn up to 69 points for each project. Depending upon the number of points earned, the facility will be awarded with a certification that ranges from the basic to the platinum level. (See “How to Earn LEED Points” on page 23.)

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, is just one college that has taken on the LEED challenge. Administrators there oversaw the design and construction of an $11.5 million rec center that included both a renovation of the existing building and a 40,000-square-foot addition. The project also involved recycled construction waste, conserved water usage, and installed carpet and paint with a low amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). For their conservation efforts, the college earned 29 LEED points for the project.

“I hope this is a trend that others will follow because there's a lot to be said for it,” says Linda Knight, director of recreational sports for the college. “We know we did the right thing for our students both now and in the future. Our students are passionate about the environment, and they rallied behind the LEED certification.”

Students at California State University-Fullerton (Cal State-Fullerton) are so passionate about their new rec center's green design that not one penny of the$40 million for the building came from the state of California. It was built, financed and operated solely by the students, who have been involved in the project since the beginning, says Andrea Willer, director of the rec center.

“They want to be responsible stewards of the environment and have given the design team the direction and authority to make responsible, environmentally friendly decisions,” she says.

As of press time, the student rec center was at 70 percent completion. Willer plans to use the sustainable design choices in and around the center to educate students, faculty and staff as well as guests and visitors about sustainability. The educational outreach campaign, which includes print material, signage and tours, will start the first day the building is open for operation next spring.

“Our goal is to positively impact the decisions people make every day that affect our immediate environment and our world,” Willer says.

Green building strategies result in long-term energy savings, but they often require an additional upfront investment. Administrators at Cal State-Fullerton paid $3,000 to register the project with the USGBC, says Jack Bage, associate director for design and construction for the university. The project's contractor also paid $50,000 to hire a consulting firm to facilitate the application and documentation process.

Higher initial cost was one of three challenges at William and Mary. The other challenges were the high level of documentation required for the project and the limited selection available in the environmentally friendly building materials, Knight says. Although going green is not the cheapest way to construct a rec center, Knight expects the energy savings will offset the upfront expense.

Energy Conservation

When a rec center decides to go green and pursue LEED certification, the university must earn points in five major areas: energy efficiency, water savings, material selection and resources, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable site development.

In the area of energy efficiency, university rec centers can trim electricity costs through the use of alternative energy or energy-efficient plants. The University of San Francisco installed photovoltaic panels on the rooftop of the Koret Health and Recreation Center. The panels, which are also on top of several other buildings on campus, will produce about 16 percent of the lower campus's peak electricity needs.

To conserve energy, the University of San Francisco operates a co-generation plant, which converts natural gas into electricity. Cal State-Fullerton went a similar route by investing $3.5 million in the construction of a stand-alone plant to serve the rec center and the neighboring student union. Supporting the union and the rec center through the cooling towers that serve the rest of the campus facilities would have overburdened cold water distribution systems designed to recharge during periods of non-peak utilities demand, says Kurt Borsting, director of the Titan Student Union.

The California State University system, which mandates green building projects on all of its campuses, is also constructing an energy-efficient rec center at California State University-Bakersfield. The project is part of a plan to reduce campus energy use by 15 percent and eliminate more than 2 million pounds of greenhouse emissions each year. Professional consultants identified areas of the campus where energy could be saved through modifications and upgrades. During the construction of the rec center, the design team will follow LEED guidelines.

Along with energy efficiency, universities are scoring additional LEED points with water conservation. Cal State-Fullerton will save about 200,000 gallons of water per year by installing low-flow toilets, urinals and shower heads. The university also conserved water by using low-flow irrigation. The system needs less water to perform the same function as a traditional spray system because the water is applied directly to the soil and eliminates the high evaporation rate of a spray system.

Another key element in the LEED certification process is material selection. University rec centers can earn points by using rapidly renewable materials as well as materials that are manufactured within 500 miles of the construction site. In the past, sustainable design was challenging due to the lack of core materials that were sustainable or recyclable, Willer says. Manufacturers, however, have changed their practices and now make products that have a payback from the start.

By renovating existing buildings rather than building new ones, universities can earn a point in the materials and resources category. William and Mary re-used75 percent of the existing building, and by not tearing down the facility, it saved energy and contributed to the rehabilitation of the structure, Knight says.

Moseley Architects, Virginia Beach, VA, designed the rec center for William and Mary. Jeff Hyder, project manager and architect for the company, says that the project involved the challenge of balancing energy efficiency with the energy required for air quality. In a rec center, it is important to have increased air movement, which requires more energy.

“It becomes challenging from the mechanical side,” Hyder says. “Some of the points you would get in an office building aren't applicable to a rec center. You need to maximize the sustainability features in other areas of the building.”

The William and Mary project team wanted to use the principle of daylighting, or maximizing the use of natural light, but faced a challenge because half of the first floor was underground. Cal State-Fullerton, however, was able to incorporate daylighting into its sustainable design. The university also improved the indoor-air quality with an efficiently designed air conditioning system that exhausts air from the showers and locker rooms directly outside. Fresh air is then mixed with the conditioned air to save energy.

Selecting paint, carpet, flooring and other materials with low VOC content levels is another way university rec centers can improve the indoor environmental quality in their facilities.

The USGBC not only emphasizes the importance of clean air, but it also awards points for alternative transportation as well as construction management recycling programs. At Cal State-Fullerton, the waste hauled from the job was separated at a material recycling facility and then sorted to determine the percentage of recyclable material. Of the 115 tons removed from the job site to date, the university is tracking a 71 percent waste diversion rate. By separating the recyclable and non-recyclable waste, a construction team can limit the amount of material that ends up at the landfill.

Commitment from Above

Despite the additional time and initial cost of sustainable design, university administrators, partially inspired by their students, have made sustainability a priority. University presidents have signed the Climate Commitment, which had 152 signatories in June 2007 and 400 as of press time. By signing the commitment, the university presidents pledge to complete an emissions inventory within two years, set a target date and interim guidelines for becoming climate neutral, take immediate steps to reduce greenhouse gases, integrate sustainability into the curriculum and make the action plan, inventory and progress reports publicly available.

Through these efforts to provide environmentally friendly facilities, universities can teach their students about energy conservation, Borsting says.

“By using the rec center, our students can learn that there are different ways to operate a building,” he says. “They can carry that knowledge about sustainability into their businesses they run and the homes they own down the road.”

How to Earn LEED Points

Universities can incorporate the following sustainability features into their rec centers to earn points toward Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification:

Sustainable Sites

  • Public transportation, bicycle use, low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicles
  • Protection or restoration of habitat
  • Maximization of open space
  • Reduction of light pollution
  • Joint use of facilities

Water Efficiency

  • Water-efficient landscaping
  • Innovative wastewater technologies
  • Water-use reduction

Energy and Atmosphere

  • Optimization of energy performance
  • On-site renewable energy
  • Green power

Materials and Resources

  • Building re-use
  • Construction waste management
  • Materials re-use
  • Recycled content
  • Regional materials
  • Rapidly renewable materials

Indoor Environmental Quality

  • Increased ventilation
  • Low-emitting materials
  • Daylighting
  • Lighting system design
  • Mold prevention

Source: U.S. Green Building Council

LEED Point Levels

The level of Leadership in Energy Efficient Design (LEED) certification that university rec centers can receive depends on the number of points earned during the design and construction process. The four levels of certification are:

Certified: 26 to 32 points

Silver: 33 to 38 points

Gold: 39 to 51 points

Platinum: 52 points or more