Going Green For Teens

With floors made of recycled rubber tires, insulation made of cotton fibers from recycled denim/blue jeans, a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses 18 wells buried 265 feet deep to maintain a constant 55 F temperature, bathroom stalls and carpets made from recycled laundry detergent bottles, windows and skylights that maximize natural lighting, the Youth Center at Robertson Park proudly stands as the City of Gaithersburg, Maryland’s first green building.

Opened in 2006, the city designed and built and now operates the youth center to meet LEED-certification requirements in order to cultivate green building awareness in the community.

A Teen Paradise

Averaging 75 participants per day and reaching up to 1,200 participants per month, the 7,400-square-foot facility operates as a drop-in center for all middle school students, who are eligible for membership at an annual fee of $10. It includes a climbing wall, computer lab, concessions, arts and crafts room, and a large game room containing an Xbox, Playstation, billiards, foosball, ping pong and a television.

Hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 2:45 to 7 p.m. throughout the school year. On half days and professional days, the building operates from noon to 6 p.m. There are extended hours once a month on Fridays with a program or special event held. Typically, three city staff members are on duty at the center during hours of operation. Students who “graduate” from the center are eligible to become mentors the following year, transitioning youth to high school. Every day, students are bused to the center from two middle school locations. In addition, this facility is the home of two day camps--Camp X-plore and Camp Innov8--during the summer months.

Shovels Of Dirt And Breathing EasyWhen thinking green we always tend to think of water and materials, but there is another important factor to include that is not so tangible--location. Environmental impacts were minimized and green space preserved by locating the project at Robertson Park and replacing an existing 5,400-square-foot cinder block building and parking lot with the new center. In order to promote alternative means of transportation, decrease emissions, and promote healthy air quality, the building is located near public transportation routes, includes outdoor outlets dedicated to recharging electric vehicles, does not exceed the local parking requirements, and provides preferred parking for carpools. During demolition and construction, waste was separated for salvage or recycling, diverting over 50 percent of waste, by volume, from the landfill and redirecting recyclable materials back to the manufacturing process and reusable materials to appropriate sites. The irrigation system, bathrooms, and concession stand were all incorporated into the design of the new center, not affecting programming at the adjacent ball fields.

With asthma and other respiratory ailments becoming a growing childhood concern, it was important to consider indoor air quality as well. Low-emitting materials were selected and an Indoor Air Quality Management Plan was utilized during the construction process to enable building inhabitants to “breathe easy,” without having to worry about contaminated indoor air. All paints, sealants, carpets, adhesives, etc. meet or exceed stringent standards for low-volatile organic compounds (VOC) content. After construction, the building was “flushed out” to ensure that all contaminants from the construction process were removed from the building prior to occupancy.

Community Reaction

There is no lack of either fun or services at the center, which shows that you can construct a building within budget that is both environmentally responsible and provides the programming that youth and their parents want.

The teenagers who frequent the center liked the fact that it gave them a place to hang out with friends and staff, especially commenting on the game room and computer room. They were amazed at what recycled materials can be turned into and they learned a lot through the process. One young lady felt compelled to quit littering and began to recycle. Another thought that it was cool to be part of the process and she felt it was helping the economy and the issue of global warming. The students were clearly impressed with the building and what it meant to their future to be building green.

LEED-ing By Example

This project won the “Planning & Design with Environmental Protection in Mind Award” under the Park & Resource Conservation Branch section of Maryland Recreation and Parks in 2006.

Beyond decreeing that all future municipal buildings be LEED-certified, the Gaithersburg mayor and council took the additional step of adopting a comprehensive ordinance designed to ensure that future residential developments and redevelopments adhere to green building standards that will help safeguard our environment for future generations. That ordinance was adopted in October 2007. A similar ordinance is also being considered for commercial development in the city.

City Staff are at 70 percent design development on two additional LEED-certified municipal facilities--a 6,500-square-foot youth center in Olde Towne to encompass an arts and crafts room, multi-purpose room, computer room, sound room and mixing/recording studio, and a 62,000-square-foot aquatic and recreation center to include a competition/lap pool, recreational pool, locker rooms, multi-purpose rooms, gymnasium, and fitness center.

Advice From Gaithersburg

There were many lessons learned throughout this relatively new and sometimes complex construction process. It definitely would be of value to visit green buildings before designing your own. It may be wise to choose a construction firm that has experience in LEED projects and not to be the first to install a new product. It is vitally important to have a knowledgeable, experienced HVAC company with experience installing sustainable systems. Also, pick finishes wisely, such as windows and hardware.

Funding for the more than $2 million project included: $100,000 for design fees and $250,000 for construction from Federal HUD funds through Community Development Block Grant; $300,000 for construction through Economic Development Initiatives; and $1,416,000 from the city’s Capital Improvements Projects budget. A 30 percent reduction in water use and a 20 percent reduction in energy costs for its efficiency with the geothermal system over a typical building are among the projected savings.

Michele McGleish is the director of the Department of Parks, Recreation and Culture in Gaithersburg, Md. She can be reached via e-mail at mmcgleish@gaithersburgmd.gov