A Field House With A View

The Waukegan Park District in Illinois wanted to go beyond space and programming requirements, beyond parking needs and storm water detention demands to include more subtle design mandates for its planned Field House at Hinkston Park.

The building had to be, in Executive Director Greg Petry’s words, “fresh, new and exciting, and reflect the renaissance Waukegan is going through.”

The building--designed by PHN Architects of Wheaton, Ill.--measures up to the mandate. Petry says, “PHN delivered on that. It’s really a visible building.”

To complement that sense of freshness and newness, district officials wanted plenty of light. They also sought to “include as many green elements as we could possibly afford,” Petry says, pointing out that green elements can be more expensive than traditional design or materials.

PHN Architects was able to include many energy-saving features into the $14 million field house, which opened in 2006. The 83,342-square-foot facility includes a six-court, open-span gym, an elevated walking/running track, climbing wall, a multi-level fitness center, locker rooms, aerobics room, child-care facilities, multi-purpose room, staff offices, concessions court and a branch of the Waukegan Public Library.

Solar Solutions

There is approximately 45,000 square feet of “cool roofing” over the facility. The building offers a light-colored membrane that reflects the sun’s heat and warmth, reducing cooling costs.

Another cost-saving feature is the extensive use of natural daylight throughout the facility, which reduces demand for artificial lighting. “The building is oriented on the site to permit a lot of natural light, not only in the gym but also in the fitness center, and at the climbing wall in the main entrance,” says Andy Dogan, a principal and project manager at PHN Architects. “Most people prefer natural light to artificial, so the extensive natural lighting in the field house also promotes a sense of well-being and connection with nature,” he says.

The daylight is particularly helpful in the six-court gymnasium, which includes skylights as well as an extensive number of windows on the south side. Even on overcast or cloudy days, the district can usually illuminate the gym with natural light only, Petry says. The gym’s windows are low-e glass (the “e” stands for “emissivity”) that uses an ultra-thin metallic coating on or in the glass to reflect heat back to its source. The windows help deflect the sun in the summer and coax the heat into the building in the winter.

Sensible Power Sources

A controllable, state-of-the-art programmed lighting system in the gymnasium permits on-the-fly adjustment of lighting levels, based on need and available daylight. The gym uses energy-efficient fluorescent fixtures instead of the more common metal halide/high-pressure sodium lighting. Dogan estimates the fixtures trim energy costs by as much as 50 percent compared to the traditional fixtures.

“Our lights come on instantly, and we can adjust the lighting to have on only what we need,” Petry says. For example, for a practice session, lights are probably on at half power. If the facility is hosting a championship game or tournament, officials use full power. In addition, the system permits many refined lighting controls. “We can light one court at full power and five at half-power, we can light just two courts if that’s all we’re using; we can do any combination. It’s really a nice energy-saving feature,” Petry says.

A digitally controlled heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system also reduces expenditures. “It’s fully programmable, and our people are constantly monitoring activity and temperatures to make sure we adjust temperatures as much as we can, depending on activity,” Petry says. The building’s fitness center and gym are kept at about 68 F, while offices and other spaces remain at approximately 70 F, he says. The system is very responsive. “Employees are able to have the HVAC system respond to the needs and usage of the building, as these needs change,” Dogan says.

Project Materials

In the six-court gymnasium, a wooden floor--not a composite one--adds to improved function, including more cushioning and better performance. Officials also liked the fact that wood is a renewable resource, Petry says. “Trees cut down for something like this floor are replaced by newly planted trees,” agrees Dogan. The wooden floor has a longer projected lifespan, and can be recycled at the end of that life, unlike a composite made of plastics and vinyl that will go to a landfill, adds Petry. “And people prefer the look of wood,” he says.

Also throughout the building, paints, sealants and carpets low in volatile organic compounds were used to reduce the number of possible toxins. “Indoor air quality is a big concern, particularly as people become more aware of chemical sensitivities,” Dogan says. “Using low-VOC materials throughout contributes to the well-being of building users.”

Durable materials, such as ground-face concrete block walls and terrazzo floors also factored into the project. When construction bids came in under budget, district officials opted for terrazzo flooring in the lobby, instead of the originally planned vinyl. “It will last to eternity,” Petry says. “It will last as long as the building lasts, so we’ll have no replacement costs. It wears well, and it’s easy to maintain. It cost more upfront, but in the long run, there’s virtually no maintenance costs. And it looks better, too.”

Beyond aesthetics, materials such as building insulation, insulating glass and water-conserving fixtures in restrooms and locker rooms represent other ways to reduce costs.

A Site For Green Eyes

Selecting the site of the building along two bus routes immediately became a cost-saving measure because it created opportunities for people to use public transportation to get to the facility. That not only potentially reduces the use of personal vehicles but also reduces the need for parking on-site.

Once inside, extensive northern views from the fitness center, aerobics and library promote a sense of well-being and a connection to the outdoors. “In the winter, people can watch the snow blow, in the spring, visitors and employees can see the trees blooming in the park,” Petry says, adding that the building overlooks a heavily wooded park. “We’ve even had an owl fly in and look in the fitness center windows. People can enjoy the natural environment.”

District officials certainly appreciate the green elements the building offers. How about Waukegan residents and users?

“I don’t know that they’re necessarily aware of the green features,” Petry says. But the building PHN designed is a big success because of those many elements, nonetheless.

“People like the feel of the building,” he says. “They feel good, they feel comfortable when they’re in there. Instead of being in a box, the building feels open and refreshing.

“This building really met our design requirement for ‘fresh, new and exciting.’”

Beth Bales is a writer associated with PHN Architects, an award-winning architectural firm that specializes in the design of recreational facilities, including aquatic centers, recreational centers and golf course clubhouses. Her story “Off-Season Greens,” on ways to increase revenues at park- and forest preserve district-owned golf course facilities during the off-season, received Illinois Parks & Recreation’s award for “Best Facilities Management Article” for 2003. She lives in Geneva, Ill., a western Chicago suburb, and may be reached at (630) 232-7912.