Net Zero Leisure Centre Project

MSc graduate, Joseph Granado, shares blog 1-5 about a placement project he had with Cranleigh Parish Council.          

Cranleigh Parish’s aims to design and construct a new leisure centre, with the goal of the structure being carbon neutral. While reaching net zero is not impossible, given the advancement in building techniques and technology, the method of demolishing an existing structure to make way for a new one is intriguing. At first it seemed almost counterintuitive to replace a building, especially when the goal is to reduce carbon emissions. However, taking an economic and sustainability approach and analyzing the intricacies and variables in this decision I can now better understand the thought process. Facts and figures suggest that the operation of the current leisure centre is risky given the state of disrepair. Moreover, the existing centre was not built nor was it renovated with low carbon and sustainable operation in mind. Taking into account the several million pounds worth of possible repairs, I believe it is possible to allocate time and resources to design a centre that is developed and operated with respect to changing viewpoints on sustainability and with the goal of becoming a true carbon neutral facility.        

            The support from my supervisor has been invaluable as it has allowed me to research and consider ambitious techniques and technologies to meet the overall goal. While I understand the business decision to start anew on this project, I also see it making environmental sense because of the ability to thinking holistically on the new structure. While the current building is not environmentally friendly, I feel that the new leisure centre can be built to the highest environmental and construction standards. Inspiration is being taken from contemporary leisure centres in the U.K. and the U.S., including the use of on-site renewable energy and energy-efficient construction. Each area of research is done with the goal of finding methods and ideas that drive down overall energy consumption, while offsetting inevitable carbon emissions resulting from new construction.

            Given the free range and open-endedness of the project, I have been able to take any initial limitations and develop more sustainable solutions. The council has established their intention to replace the leisure centre, while having not explored the most extensive carbon reduction methods. I feel as though I can bring the plight for carbon neutrality to the forefront of this project, injecting the most ambitious and cost-effective methods into the design dialogue. Examples of cases and technologies I have discovered so far include a new low-carbon leisure centre in Exeter, UK and the use of solar heating or geo-thermal storage. There are still many areas that I can delve into, searching for the most logical and environmentally friendly methods of construction.

I feel like the technology and methods will not be my biggest challenge. Instead, I fear that I will be too ambitious in my reporting that I may overwhelm my readers in the Parish Council. Given the budget information and the reality that local government can influence the end decision, I believe it is necessary to be as transparent and pragmatic in my findings.

Cranleigh Parish Council Net Zero Leisure Centre Project

Blog #2

While delving into my research for the leisure centre I found that I could incorporate my past knowledge and understanding of green building learned through my LEED accreditation. After learning of the UK’s BREEAM building certification system I knew that these would be excellent resources to incorporate into my recommendations and report. With the goal of reaching net zero on a new building, these green certifications are invaluable as they provide real-world examples of projects and the tools necessary to meet sustainability goals. As the UK strives to reach reduce carbon emissions by 2050, certifying bodies such as these will be necessary to assess the range of functions in building stock that can contribute to climate change.

            As with LEED, BREEAM has a dedicated standard for new construction of non-residential buildings, focusing on continuous improvements and innovative environmental design. All these stages of this standard come together to create a robust design and streamlined construction process, resulting in higher performance and lower carbon emissions. Upon inspection of the breakdown of requirements which include categories such water, waste, materials, and energy, I found that this information could potential be implemented into the net zero leisure centre project.

            Upon inspection of the current leisure centre and refreshing myself with its shortcomings, I gravitated towards envisioning the new building through a sustainability point of view. The existing building is plagued with issues including lacking any energy efficiency measures, using fossil fuels, and lack of consistent upkeep. Taking from these shortcomings and realising the growing need to focus on mitigating the consequences of rampant carbon emissions, implementing designs such as xeriscaping, energy efficient equipment, renewable energy generation, and robust environmental building management protocols can drive down emissions.

            Research into innovative energy efficiency tools and certifications comprise a key aspect into the leisure centre plan and design, as the new structure must strive to be net zero. If there is any hope to meet WBC’s climate goal, then this building must meet the highest energy efficiency standards and become a model of sustainability. While current UK building standards set strict requirements for efficiency in operation and other aspects of sustainability, it is imperative that this leisure centre take that extra step and revolutionise the Cranleigh area. The impact that a building such as this can have on future construction and renovation in the area can certainly help with the general understanding of sustainability.

            I feel as though this project goes beyond simply researching and passing along recommendations. This leisure centre embodies the ambitious goals of the community and the country. The leisure centre is a place that people will come together to enjoy the freedom to unwind and be active. However, the nature of this project being a catalyst for deeper change is inspiring. Behaviours and thoughts regarding environmental sustainability can be sensitive, however working directly with community members is method to connect and work to solve the plants biggest challenges. 

Cranleigh Parish Council Net Zero Leisure Centre Project

Blog #3

            I had the pleasure to schedule meetings with professionals and city planners who lead low-carbon and energy efficient buildings and projects. From a learning standpoint I found that these individuals would be the greatest pool of information that I could possibly tap into to compile realistic and practical recommendations for my placement. Despite my hours of intensive reading and research, I found that these people offered a more robust and practical approach to disseminate information regarding green design and innovative low energy systems that simply reading would not have matched.

            I first talked to John Jennison of the Osprey Leisure Centre. From this conversation I wanted to learn more about the ingenious use of air source heat pumps (ASHP) and how the centre came to use this technology. According to Mr. Jennison, the centre formed a partnership with an ASHP manufacturer and provided a pilot opportunity to test a state-of-the-art prototype ASHP. The success from this prototype has been leaps and bounds ahead of expectations, so much that this type of system is not being an industry leader and standard. Osprey Leisure Centre experienced energy savings of up to 78% compared to their use of gas boilers.

            Mr. Jennison also noted that this heat pump system was not the only method of driving down overall energy consumption. The Osprey Leisure Centre specifically has attempted to make the most of all current systems, technologies, and programmes to provide the highest quality services while keeping in mind the current climate crisis. For example, the use of variable speed pumps and pool covers are used to lower overall energy demand, phasing out traditional single speed pumps which are more energy intensive and covering the pool to limit evaporation while regulating a consistent water temperature.

            Emma Osmundsen and Tomas Gartner have worked to design and construct the revolutionary St. Sidwell’s Point Leisure Complex in Exeter. This structure is the UK’s first Passivhaus and Building Biology compliant leisure centre. From this conversation the delicate intricacies and challenges experienced with a leisure centre build to Passivhaus standards were detailed. For example, I was not aware that in a Passivhaus pool centre that regulating moisture and ventilation are perhaps the largest energy demands. According to Mr. Gartner because the Passivhaus building envelope is so well insulated, the challenge becomes ensuring enclosed humidity does not impact the remainder of the building. Additionally, the true cost factor of building a Passivhaus aquatic centre was explained to be around a 10% premium on established construction costs. While these figures can shock at first, it is necessary to discuss and plan for this investment with the understanding that the returns will pay off in a shorter amount of time.

            These semi-structured interviews were my first experiences engaging with industry professionals that have a greater understanding and input on related projects. I found that their knowledge on the built environment and the low-carbon transition to be truly inspiring. I have no doubt that these cases will be of great help to my recommendations to develop net zero initiatives for CPC’s future leisure centre.

Cranleigh Parish Council Net Zero Leisure Centre Project

Blog #4

              Prior to my taking this internship, I was not familiar with Passivhaus nor the standard’s demonstrated success of lowering the ecological and carbon footprint of a structure. My supervisor mentioned the interest of pursuing this standard in the future CPC Leisure Centre, as well as outlining a contemporary example in Exeter City Council’s new St. Sidwell’s Point leisure complex. From these points I continued the research into what makes this design stand out and how it can feasible be reproduced.

              Passivhaus requirements rely on the adherence to delicate criteria including space heating energy demand/space cooling energy demand, renewable primary energy demand, airtightness, and thermal comfort. The combination of these criteria provides a healthy, comfortable, and energy efficient structure regardless of the surrounding climate. The reliance on this standard has boomed since its first use in the late 1980s. Many structures worldwide have made drastic improvements to their energy efficiency and environment by relying on Passivhaus construction.

              I see CPC’s Leisure Centre as being a prime example of a project that can benefit the council, but also the visitors that partake in the facilities. There are examples of a variety of projects ranging from factories, residential and non-residential living, and activity centres that inspiration can be derived, taking ideas into the future of CPC’s Leisure Centre. According to Emma Osmundsen and Tom Gartner, two officials with the St Sidwell’s Point Passivhaus project, Passivhaus certification is very attainable goal given the appropriate planning and design are taken into consideration.

              After referring to my sources I feel that going forward WBC and CPC must consider three key areas to promote net zero goals and the climate emergency: the building envelope, low-carbon energy, and air circulation. While there are other aspects to consider on a new build or renovation, I feel as though these three factors are key areas to consider for the future attainment of CPC and WBC’s environmental goals. The built environment is a carbon intensive sector, partly due to the use of harmful materials such as concrete and high dependency on fossil fuels throughout the process of building. Granted, I believe that using recycled, natural, and low embodied carbon materials it is possible to lessen the impact of a new leisure centre.

              The superstructure of any build will undoubtably incur some level of carbon emissions due to traditional materials use. However, if the building is designed to the highest specifications and utlises environmentally conscious materials I believe that a robust and resilient structure can be built, while adhering to Passivhaus goals. Additionally, a pool facility is unlike other structures in that it will require continuous energy to operate. This realisation lends to the idea that combining renewable solar PV and biomass are two energy sources that can provide consistent and environmentally sustainable energy generation. It is not plausible to rely solely on grid electricity and gas boilers; these traditional methods do not provide the necessary cost and environmental savings that are expected. Finally, ventilation and controlling moisture levels in a leisure centre can be one of the largest energy uses. It is necessary to design the entirety of the structure to reduce thermal bridging and heat loss, while properly circulating air to ensure a consistent thermal atmosphere.

              Passivhaus certification is not an easy goal to attain, yet it is possible as seen in the numerous successful examples around the world. The cost premium will be felt in the design and construction phases, however with the hard energy savings and overall efficiency the payback period will be short. I feel that this is a worthwhile standard to achieve and seriously consider.

Blog #5

              As my placement portion of this project comes near a conclusion and I have developed my recommendations to present to WBC and CPC, I look back on the invaluable information and experience that this placement has given me. This opportunity allowed me to work in pursuit of an ambitious goal for CPC and for the built environment. Quite by accident, this placement and the goal that it seeks to achieve struck a chord, aligning with previous ambitious and incorporating learned material to help forward a project that was unique.

              I am optimistic that this leisure centre project will be a resounding success despite the challenges ahead. I feel as though CPC and WBC are planning accordingly in declaring a climate emergency and working to transition to a sustainable way of life for residents and businesses. I believe that developing a net zero leisure centre will promote health and prosperity for people and the community, but it can also be a catalyst for large scale change within the community and beyond.

              Continued discussion on the leisure centre is sure to cover challenges such as cost, sustainable design, and how this project will align with established goals, yet with increased support and research into contemporary projects that are successful. As alternative energy generation and green materials become standard it is clear that behaviours will change towards sustainable design, including its advantages and financial benefits.

              The inclusion of innovative design features, best practices, and energy efficient systems will create the proper savings in both resource demand and costs that it will be counterintuitive to adhere to traditional methods of construction. Investing in the future is the logical choice when it comes to preserving ecological systems and promoting a healthy environment for all. This leisure centre can push the climate emergency into the consciousness of people in the UK, while also demonstrating the ability to local municipalities to enact actual changes to promote sustainability.

              After taking these past several weeks to discuss ideas, challenge my assumptions, and further my knowledge and understanding of sustainability in the built environment I have come to appreciate the efforts of WBC and CPC. Furthermore, I feel as though the focus on the built environment is the most important aspect to consider going forward given the massive carbon footprint associated with residential and non-residential structures. The leisure centre is no exception, though the use of sustainable design and Passivhaus standards can pave the way for other buildings in the area to transition to low-carbon and energy efficient operation.

              I have cherished this opportunity and am truly excited to see how this project will pan out in the coming years. Whether CPC’s leisure centre is again retrofitted or there is a new building constructed, going forward there are key ways either scenario can be successful while adhering to WBC and CPC’s sustainability initiatives.