Southwest Environment

Stories written by University of Arizona students

Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science
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UA’s rec center expansion LEED(s) the way in sustainable innovations

By Nicholas Rossi
rock climbing structure
Photo by Nicholas Rossi
A rock-climbing structure at the Rec has a water storage tank underneath.

At the entrance to the newly expanded student rec center, cool air greets entering students, reassuring them that they won’t overheat as they work out. On the other side of a long hallway in the renovated area of the rec center, a rock-like structure is visible through a wall of flawless glass windows.

This structure has a recreational purpose, and that is to climb. But the rock-climbing structure also serves as a camouflage for a water storage tank that stores runoff collected from the adjacent outside volleyball court.

The Student Recreation Center’s expansion, completed in 2009, was the first building on the University of Arizona campus to receive certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system, called LEED for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The rec center is recognized as the first LEED Platinum student recreation center in the nation.

Commonly known to students as “the Rec,” the center on Sixth Street was awarded LEED Platinum in 2010.  Platinum is the highest rank. The rank was awarded for its incorporation of environmental categories, including water and energy efficiency, the use of recovered or recycled materials, and its indoor/outdoor environmental quality.

“I really like the new renovations to the rec center.  It is very modernized, and the big windows make it feel more open and bright rather than a dark and gloomy space to work out in, like most gyms I have been to,” said sophomore Natasha Malenko.

The panoramic glass windows that stretch around the perimeter of the Rec allow UA students to get the most out of natural daylight and a view of vibrant Sixth Street. The windows are low-emissivity, which insulates them against outdoor temperature extremes. 

recreation center

Photo by Nicholas Rossi
The many windows of the UA Student Recreational Center provides natural lighting.
“The major building spaces – 90 percent (of the area) – in the expansion are oriented so that natural light is prevalent throughout the building,” explained May Carr, senior architect of UA Planning, Design & Construction. These lighting initiatives not only reduce the overall energy use, she said, but also advance the well-being of students and enhance the indoor environmental quality.

UA began moving toward LEED Construction in 2007 under former President Robert Shelton.  The rec center expansion project was a $22.7 million student-fee-funded project. These fees have been tacked onto tuition costs to fill the gaps in state funding. Former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed an executive order in 2005 mandating all new state-funded buildings must feature renewable energy and be LEED Silver or greater.

The certification process takes about six months, as there are different periods involved.  It initially begins with the design phase as construction follows, and finally reaches verification phase, explained Joseph Abraham, director of the UA Office of Sustainability. 

“We’re kind of finishing up a big building cycle that has taken place over the past 10 years,” Abraham said. 

Across Sixth Street, the UA recently completed a student dormitory, Likins Hall. The hall was designed to garner a certification of LEED Silver or even Platinum, as it has followed many of the design features included in the expansion of the Rec. Uncovered portions of flooring throughout Likins are polished concrete, while the floor in the exercise sections of the Rec is a soft black surface made from recycled rubber material. 

“Building materials that have been extracted, harvested or recovered and manufactured within 500 miles of UA have been applied to the expansion of the Rec,” explained Carr.  

There are also plans to expand the current Math Annex Building, which will accommodate the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. Construction is expected to kick off soon and be modeled after the Rec and Likins Hall.

On the other side of campus, an array of solar panels covers the upper level of the Second Street Parking Garage. The panels provide the Rec with a portion of its energy to give those exercise machines that extra oomph. 

“The energy generated from the solar panels located on the Second Street garage will be only applied to the LEED expansion of the Rec and not be calculated toward any other future LEED projects,” Carr mentioned. 

This initiative therefore earned three points towards its Platinum certification.

The Rec, which serves as a hub where students gather to socialize or work out, can be easily accessed by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. The Rec received LEED credits for having ample bike racks. There is also parking available for those who wish to drive their personal vehicles.

“There are (16) parking stalls available for those who care to (minimize) their carbon footprint by driving hybrid or eco-friendly vehicles, which earned a point in the category for low emitting and amp-fuel-efficient vehicles under sustainable sites,” explained Carr.

While the Rec has gained its recognition as the first LEED Platinum-certified building on campus, it has inspired a new phase in how buildings should be modeled to better the environment through concepts of sustainability.

Nicholas Rossi is a senior at the University of Arizona majoring in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in business administration, regional development, and environmental science. His primary interests include sustainability and recycling.


UA Office of Sustainability

U.S.Green Building Council

Student Recreation Center

UA Planning, Design and Construction

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

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