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November 14, 2011

Going Green

By: Jimmy Robertson

Tech’s new football locker room becomes the second building on campus – and the first athletics department facility – to meet new environmental certification standards

Every “first” deserves to be celebrated, and the Virginia Tech athletics department is celebrating a “first” that has nothing to do with a performance on the court or on the field.

The $18 million football locker room, completed in August of last year, became the first athletics department facility to obtain LEED certification as established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, was designed by the USGBC to encourage and facilitate the development of more sustainable buildings, and it represents the industry standard for green buildings. In short, LEED certification means that a building was designed and constructed to be sensitive to the environment around it.

“The whole idea is to build ‘green,’” agreed David Chinn, a capital project manager at Tech who teamed with the athletics department to work with Populous and Barton Malow, the architect and the construction firm, respectively, on the football locker room project.

LEED certification is based on a points system that takes into account five environmental categories: water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and innovation and design. Forty to 49 points achieves certification, 50 to 59 points achieves Silver certification, 60 to 79 points achieves Gold certification and anything above 80 points achieves Platinum certification. The architect of a building submits the paperwork applying for the certification, and the USGBC then scores the project.

In early October, Populous – the architect of the project – notified the university and the athletics department that the football locker room had received LEED Silver certification from the USGBC. The locker room became the second building on Tech’s campus to be LEED certified and the first to reach Silver certification – the school’s Theatre 101 and the Henderson Hall renovation project were awarded LEED Gold certification in 2010.

The football locker room contains the finest of amenities for the players, but the materials used in construction helped the building earn the certification. For example, the TPO roof (thermoplastic olefin) is white and reflects sunlight, thus reducing the gas and/or electricity needed for cooling. The toilets and urinals, along with the hand wash sinks, are low flush and use significantly less water than normal toilets, urinals, and sinks. Also, in certain areas, motion lights were installed, and those lights cut off after a period of time, again reducing electricity use.

“We also did some other things that the USGBC takes into consideration,” Chinn said. “We bought materials within a certain radius of the project. Instead of buying materials from, say, California and having them shipped across the country, we bought as close to campus as we could, and that saved on the use of fuel.

“The building site helped us, too. The area where we built the locker room was previously a loading and unloading area, so we were building on asphalt. We weren’t tearing down a forest. And the contractor was able to recycle a lot of the extra material from the project. I know they took the asphalt and recycled it. All of that factors into your [LEED] score.”

The athletics department also got a point for bringing in a LEED accredited professional, or AP. This person specializes in green building practices and in the LEED rating system. In addition, the athletics department received a point for hiring a commissioning agent to review the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system. This independent contractor reviews the HVAC system to make sure it’s environmentally friendly and tests it to make sure it runs as efficiently as possible.

The locker room didn’t meet the standard for LEED Platinum or Gold certification, but that doesn’t mean the athletics department cut any corners on the project.

“With some projects, you only have so many opportunities to meet certain LEED standards,” Chinn said. “For example, office buildings are ideal projects because you can do so much more with temperature and lighting and water – things like that. With a locker room and a wrestling practice area [which is on the third floor of the locker room building], you do as much as you can – and we did – but in the end, the project has to be functional for your needs, too.”

Both Populous (formerly HOK Sport Venue Event), a company that specializes in the designing of sports facilities, and Barton Malow remained sensitive to the athletics department’s and the university’s desire to be environmentally conscious and achieve LEED certification.

“You’ve got to get your part right because you can’t go back and re-do anything,” said Tom Gabbard, Tech’s associate AD for internal affairs. “So there’s an increased sensitivity among architects and construction firms. They want to put their best foot forward.”

Last year, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed an executive order requiring LEED Silver certification for all new state buildings. Virginia Tech wrote in its Climate Action Commitment and Sustainability Plan to pursue Silver certification for all new buildings and for major renovations.

Obviously, that includes any new or existing facilities for athletics. Currently, the athletics department is in the process of raising funds for the building of a new indoor football practice facility adjacent to the football practice fields – a project that figures to be between 88,000 and 100,000 square feet and cost between $20-30 million. That cost also includes making some renovations to Rector Field House, the Hokies’ current indoor facility and the home of the indoor track and field team.

“Absolutely, we’ll go into that project with the goal of achieving LEED Silver certification or better,” Gabbard said. “We’ll state those intentions from the beginning with whomever the architect and the contractor is.

“The university has a goal and a plan in place to be as environmentally conscious as possible. We agree with that, and we’re going to do our part to help meet those goals.”