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By Heather Benjamin | | June 30, 2016

Building a sports stadium to LEED standards creates public awareness as well as environmental benefits.

Residents of D.C. love their Washington Nationals. Since 2008, when the LEED Silver Nationals Park stadium opened and brought major-league baseball back to the District, fans have packed the stands for that most American of all sports. Located in Southeast near the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, the 41,546-seat stadium was the first professional sports venue in the nation to gain LEED certification.

Susan Klumpp Williams, LEED AP, BD+C, a principal at HOK, was the project manager for the joint venture HOK (now Populous)/ Devrouax & Purnell that designed the stadium. Anica Landreneau, also LEED AP, BD+C, also worked on the project with Susan—both as the LEED Administrators. They faced some unique challenges with the first sports facility built to LEED standards, but made choices that have raised the bar for stadiums of the 21st century.

Working with a new format

LEED does not have a specific subcategory for sports stadiums, so certain credits needed to be adapted from what they might look like for an office building into what they would mean for a large sports park, according to the designers. 

One difficulty that the team overcame was that Major League Baseball does not allow irrigation of a field with nonpotable water, so even though a great deal of stormwater is collected by the park, it cannot not be reused for that purpose. Instead, the water is rigorously filtered, cleaned and released into the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers.

Light pollution reduction was another credit that offered a challenge, because a sports stadium requires bright field lighting for night games. Using lower mounted fixtures and high-efficiency field lighting with baffles and shields helped mitigate the effect. There are also overhangs and external shading in the design of the park.

Another requirement that had them momentarily stumped was the need for bicycle racks. “The reviewers said you have to provide for 5 percent of peak demand, so that would have been about 2,000 bike storage spaces,” explained Landreneau. “So we turned that around in a credit interpretation that was granted that said that bike storage is a product of service, not consumption,” given the way that stadiums are used and occupied. As a result, they created the popular “bike valet” service—where cyclists can check their bikes as if they were coats, and pick them up at the end of the game. The feature is even being expanded this year, due to popular demand.

Benefits to the area

“This is one of those projects that was intended as an economic catalyst for this area of the District,” said Williams. The ballpark’s location was initially expected, and is continuing, to bring in more development to the area.

The transportation credits were an easy match; the downtown urban location provides access to mass transit with the Metro train and bus lines, as well as bicycle paths. Parking was intentionally limited to encourage patrons to use public transportation options, which they do in droves.

Adjacent sites also benefit from the park’s “smart” contaminant monitoring and filtering. Any ground water that is flowing beneath the ballpark is evaluated and remediated before release into the Anacostia River. Therefore, the former brownfield site’s positive effect extends beyond the actual borders of the stadium and leaves the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers in better condition than before the construction of the park.

The benefits also extend to education. “It’s a great public demonstration project about green building,” said Landreneau. Nationals fans learn about green buildings from signage and from interaction, by using the dual-flush valves in the restrooms and by seeing the green roof (donated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) on one of the concession stands. Recycling stations are located throughout the park, and composting collection points have now been added.

We have the technology

Those working on a potential LEED sports stadium project in their city, say Williams and Landreneau, should stay confident.

  • Adapt and be creative. “Through the clarification and interpretation process, we looked to adopt strategies that fit for this building type,” said Landreneau. The bike valet solution is one example, as is the ubiquity of the recycling stations. “Instead of trying to fit too rigidly inside the LEED rating system, just be creative, and look for the solution that really fits your building type.”
  • Think positive. “It shouldn’t be a daunting thing,” says Williams. “A lot of this was done on our time and we believed in the cause, we thought it was the right thing to do, and then everybody got on board…don’t be intimidated by the process, realize a lot of credits needed for sports facilities are already in the USGBC credits offered, and just think a little outside the box.”

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