Let's go green with arena

July 27, 2008|By Dan Rodricks

Here's how Baltimore gets the world's attention, attracts an NBA or NHL franchise, pulls in a major corporate sponsor, establishes another tourist destination a couple of blocks from Camden Yards, helps foster a new sector of jobs in Maryland and reduces long-term operating costs of its new downtown arena: with pizza made from tomatoes grown on the premises.

It is absolutely essential that the city recruit a visionary architect to design the new arena, and this design must be green from the ground up - even below ground - and I'm not kidding about including a terrace or hothouse for a tomato garden.

When I say "green," I don't mean 20 percent green. I mean green beyond green - far beyond what has been achieved in public and private spaces so far. Baltimore's new arena should meet or surpass goals of the U.S. Green Building Council. It should have a major wow factor architecturally but also set an example of sustainability for the nation and the world.

"Think outside the box and into the future," is how Stan Sersen, board president of the Green Building Institute in Jessup, put it.

Now is the perfect time to champion this Earth-friendly ethos, and the new arena is the perfect project: a high-profile building in a redeveloping city that needs to keep doing dynamic things to attract new businesses and residents. A major green-as-can-be project would put Baltimore on the cutting edge. There would be no sports arena like this. It would be a model for other public and private projects to come. All sorts of businesses would want to be associated with it.

Here's how we get there:

1. Hire a company to recycle as much of 1st Mariner Arena as possible. Injecting green into the construction of a new arena begins with the deconstruction of the old one. On Broening Highway, the old General Motors plant is being transformed into the Chesapeake Commerce Center by Duke Realty of Indianapolis. Nearly all nonhazardous building materials there have been recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The volume of materials from the deconstruction is estimated to be approximately 98,000 tons," the EPA reported on its Web site. "[That] is equivalent to the energy savings of removing nearly 1,000 cars from the roadways for one year."

Sersen says several components of 1st Mariner - steel, concrete - could be reused in the new arena or salvaged for other construction in Maryland. "There's a whole new green-collar industry developing in deconstruction," Sersen says, noting the potential for job growth.

2. Integrate the new arena with as much of the Baltimore that's already there as possible - connect it to west-side redevelopment and Camden Yards and the public transit system that runs nearby. A green arena in Baltimore would make a statement about the city and about Maryland - that this is a place eager to be on the map of green innovation.

"Education and jobs is all part of it," says Jason Holstine, president of Amicus Green Building Center in Kensington, which helps homeowners and builders go green. "There needs to be a holistic approach - mandates for local jobs, the use of local materials and products. Baltimore is an old manufacturing town. Why not use this opportunity to reintroduce new manufacturing jobs?"

Holstine could think of no materials for the new arena that would have to be transported here from out of state. Solar panels could come from BP Solar's ever-expanding facility in Frederick. It's one of the largest manufacturers of solar technology in the world.

3. Make the building as energy-smart as possible. That means renewable energy from solar panels on the building's south side. If the city is going to sell air rights above the arena, possibly for offices or condominiums, then it could sell "solar rights" as well, says Sersen. "That must be conditioned on whatever's built above the arena having a solar-power generation process that serves the main building below," he says.

4. For the arena to be successful, it must be busy in daytime as well as night. It should be a major attraction for conventions, for instance, and on weekends for large religious groups.

"It should make optimum use of daylight," says Sersen. "There should be as much natural light as possible, minimizing the energy use and the heat buildup from [electric] lights." The new conference center in Pittsburgh, Sersen says, provides a good example of this approach.

5. The new Baltimore arena will likely be heated and cooled using downtown's present steam energy system, which Sersen says is great, except for one thing - the wasteful water discharge. Water from the steam system goes into drainage and the Jones Falls, he says. That water could be recaptured and put to other use - for flushing toilets, for making ice or perhaps for filling a Olympic swimming pool under the main arena floor. (Somebody call Michael Phelps about this.)

The recycled water can also be used to irrigate the building's gardens.

6. "You can incorporate agriculture," Sersen says. "You can grow food on a terrace or in a greenhouse." If the new arena houses restaurants, workers could grow and harvest vegetables from a series of terraces, or even the building's ultimate rooftop. Greenhouses can be incorporated in the design. "All of that can be done," Sersen says.

So you sit down to some sports event or concert in some future year, and you order a personal-size pizza. The pizza features arena-grown tomatoes, and it was baked in an oven that got its energy from solar panels. Sustainable pizza in a sustainable arena.

Let's do this, and do it right.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

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