From Trash To Treasure

In the 1960s, the city of Fort Collins, Colo., stopped using a city dump site north of downtown and immediately adjacent to the PoudreRiver. In the early 1970s, most of the 13-acre site was converted into a neighborhood park. Then in 1978, a 15,000-square-foot community center was constructed in the park.

Almost immediately, the facility began to shift and sag as the landfill did the same. Several renovations occurred over a period of years, including replacing the gymnasium floor onto structural piers to bedrock, and stabilizing other areas through mud-jacking.

The city had already received a $250,000 brownfields pilot grant to assess 144 properties, 352 acres and 30 residences along the river corridor, including the dump site. Contamination was found only at the dump site. While typical contaminants were not deemed serious enough to require site mitigation, an oily substance was discovered migrating beneath the site and day-lighting into the river. A targeted brownfields assessment showed that the migration of contamination into the river was linked to an old coal gasification plant just south of the city’s property.

With the Environmental Protection Agency’s involvement, responsible parties were identified, and a plan was put into place to block the substance from entering the river. The recreation center project was put on hold while this work was done. The design and mitigation work were finished during two consecutive winters when the river flows were low--from fall 2003 through early spring 2005.

The chosen solution for the problem involved sinking a 700-foot-long interlocking PVC wall into bedrock in the river bottom, along with building piping and a pumping station on-site to capture any coal tar materials from reaching the river. Fifty-two truckloads of dirt, rock and debris were removed from the river and hauled to a hazmat dump site. An additional 40 loads of un-impacted material went to a landfill.

The Finish Line

In 2005, Aller, Lingle, Massey Architects and Sink Combs Dethlefs, Sport Architecture, in association with a local contractor, were awarded a design-build contract for the new center. The construction was phased so that the original 15,000-square-foot facility could remain open to the public during construction. The new facility was built in the parking lot of the original building, and part of the new parking lot was constructed for patrons using the original facility.

The new 48,740-square-foot facility was completed in fall 2007, and was officially dedicated in November. The facility is proof that indoor facilities can be successfully built on landfills, and that LEED certification is possible to achieve with smart planning, good design and a commitment on the part of the owner and team to build responsibly.

The design of the recreation center includes:

· Triple gymnasium

· Elevated track

· Locker rooms

· Fitness center

· Two activity rooms

· Lounge

· Computer lab

· Kitchen

· Four classrooms

· A three-section, multi-use room

· Offices

· Reception entry

· Storage.

A Closer Look

One of the brownfields requirements was to disturb the landfill as little as possible. The new building was raised 3 to 4 feet above the landfill, with an active fume-mitigation system underneath. The building sits on 300 helical piers into bedrock to eliminate having to remove dredged-up landfill materials had the contractor used the traditional structural footings. Three exterior gymnasium walls are constructed with insulated concrete forms and exterior stucco, and west-facing windows are angled to reduce afternoon glare and solar gain. Notable examples of energy-efficient and sustainability features that earned points for the LEED designation are:

· An energy-efficient building shell, HVAC and lighting systems, contributing to an annual energy savings of 31 percent

· Measurement and verification of the building’s HVAC, lighting and power systems, energy use and water consumption to allow city staff to verify systems operation and to make adjustments if needed to maintain efficient operation

· Efficient plumbing fixtures such as dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals, and low-flow faucets and showers, resulting in a treated water savings of 44 percent

· Use of native and adapted plant species and high-efficiency irrigation systems, for a raw-water savings of 52 percent

· Diversion of over 95 percent of the waste generated during construction from the landfill and to recycling, reuse or salvage

· Adequate bike racks and spaces for car and van pooling, exhibiting the city’s dedication to alternative forms of transportation

· Retention of more than double the building footprint on the site for permanent open space

· Heat-reflective roofing to reduce the building cooling costs

· Full cut-off site lighting to reduce nighttime light pollution

· Recycled content materials comprising over 17 percent of the cost of materials used

· Numerous strategies to protect indoor air quality and thermal comfort

· Use of regional materials (from within 500 miles),comprising over 27 percent of the cost of materials used

· Use of low-emitting adhesives, paints, carpet and composite wood

· Day-lighting and views from over 95 percent of the interior spaces

The city’s LEED standard at the time of the project start-up was to achieve silver. The project received 40 points, putting it in the gold range of 39-51 points. Applying for a LEED rating costs more initially, but the payback comes from ongoing operational savings and, of course, doing the right thing for the environment.

Jean Helburg is the director of Recreation for the city of Fort Collins. She can be reached via e-mail at

Jennifer Stephens is a senior associate and director of marketing for Sink Combs Dethlefs in Denver, Colo. She can be reached via e-mail at To learn more about the project design contact Sink Combs Dethlefs