As budgets remain tight at many universities around the country, the need to keep costs low is increasingly important. And as green efforts remain important at many universities, some university rec centers are seeking out energy efficiency as one way to slash operating costs.
Often, an energy-savings project at a rec center is part of a campuswide initiative. That was the case at the University of Rhode Island (URI) in Kingston, RI. Art Tuveson, who was director of recreational services at the time and is now assistant athletics director of facility management and planning, found out about the university’s initiative. After asking about the initiative, he was invited to join the technical review committee overseeing the process.
The committee agreed that URI should use the athletic complex—which consisted of four buildings, including one built in 1950 and another built in 1974—as the guinea pig.The school sought proposals from energy service companies (ESCOs), selecting four to offer proposals with conservation recommendations and projected savings.
URI ending up choosing NORESCO, which suggested 14 energy-saving methods, including upgrading the lighting and heating systems, replacing the windows and adding steam radiator controls in the 1950 facility. Computerized controls were added for the HVAC system. The controls can be accessed by the university maintenance division and Tuveson but are monitored by InControl, a company contracted by NORESCO. ROI was guaranteed within 10 to 12 years.
ESCOs are a growing business, Tuveson says. Maintenance of the systems that ESCOs install is part of the ESCO contract. Because these companies guarantee savings, they have to make sure the systems are well kept.
West Virginia University in Morgantown, WV, had a similar experience with the ESCO Siemens. It invested nearly $30 million in a campuswide ESCO project that included athletic facilities, says Clement Solomon, director of sustainability at the university. The project, which covers HVAC systems, water conservation and building automation, is now in the last of three phases.
Siemens guaranteed a savings of $745,000 for the first phase.
“Our actual savings ended up to be close to a million dollars,” Solomon says. “Because of the guaranteed utility savings, your return on investment and payback…comes with a lower risk.”
New construction offers a big opportunity to implement energy savings. Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, CA, built a new recreation center in 2004. With the rolling power outages that swept the state in 2000 fresh in mind, Sonoma State used LEED design guidelines even though it opted not to pursue certification, instead putting the funds toward more green features. The building now features radiant floor heating, passive and active solar, and mechanical louvers that open at night to cool the building. Because of the green design, only 30 percent of the building needs air conditioning, says Pamela Su, director of campus recreation at Sonoma State. The work was funded by student fees, and the school took advantage of rebates available through Pacific Gas and Electric.
If new construction is not an option, Su advises looking for rebates that might be available to help finance an energy audit or retrofit.
“Lighting retrofits are an area that are really being supported by incentives out there,” she says. One place to find incentives is Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency.
The entire Sonoma State campus, including the new rec center, underwent a lighting audit in 2012. A California company called Lighting Wizards recommended swapping the fluorescent lights with newer models. The change is projected to save $11,000 per year campuswide and achievepayback in 1.2 years.
“We did have some incentives, again, from our energy companies,” notes Su.
When Portland State University in Oregon built a 100,000-square-foot rec center in 2010, state law required it to achieve at least LEED Silver status. The school hired architects Yost Grube Hall and construction company Skanska and used a design-build process in which some green features are designed as the building goes up. This type of project requires the construction company and architects to work well together, says Alex Accetta, director of campus recreation for the university.
The building includes geothermal heating and cooling, a solar array and a water catchment system. It also has a system that harnesses the energy from the facility’s elliptical machines. The system does not contribute a great deal of power, Accetta says, but the school wanted to help support the developing technology. The building meets LEED Gold standards and uses 29 percent less energy than if it merely complied with minimum building codes, Accetta says.
“LEED’s gotten so doable now,” he says, perhaps because technology has improved so quickly and the number of LEED-certified contractors has increased.
“I think that people overestimate the cost,” Accetta adds. “The technology’s advanced so quickly, and it really doesn’t cost that much. We’re going to save a ton of money on our utility bills.”
Accetta says the sustainable design trend will only grow. He sees leaders in college recreation showing a lot of interest in educating students about sustainability.
“Our field, it’s about health, right? Whether it’s health or sustainability, it’s pretty much the same thing,” he says. “This is definitely a national thing in higher education.
“This generation expects us…to be socially responsible.”
When those students graduate, they will expect the gyms they join to do the same.
Energy audits are a good way to find out where rec centers are less efficient.
An energy audit may sound expensive, but it does not have to be, especially if university rec center directors pull from the existing resources at the university—its staff and students. Facilities staff, especially at larger institutions, may be able to conduct an audit, or engineering students might be able to do simple audits for class credit.
For institutions that do not have these options, they can turn to their local utility company, most of which offer free or low-cost audits. Outside consultants can look at specific areas, such as lighting, or a building’s entire operations.