Stadium Case Study: Going To Bat For Green

Home of the Washington Nationals, the newest MLB ballpark earns LEED silver. The director of ballpark operations plans to maintain the momentum.
Home of the Washington Nationals, the newest MLB ballpark earns LEED silver. The director of ballpark operations plans to maintain the momentum.

Stadium Case Study: Going To Bat For Green

Stadium Case Study: Going To Bat For Green

By Anne Cosgrove

Published in the October 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Five months after its debut, Nationals Park in Washington, DC retains a clean and unspoiled appearance. Even the loading docks and the waste container area remain free of the debris and build up so commonly associated with those locations. As time passes, it is inevitable these back of house spaces, along with the rest of the stadium, will become well worn from daily usage. But it will not happen anytime soon if the facility manager at the helm has any say in the matter.

Matthew Blush, director of ballpark operations for Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Washington Nationals, is doing his best to ensure the facility remains as close to this pristine state as possible. “Much of it is about controlling costs,” he says. “The cleaner the ballpark stays, the less maintenance we need to perform. That also translates into lower prices for the fans.”

The focus on preserving a “like new” appearance, however, will not prevent continuous improvements from taking place. Blush is intent on making alterations to aspects of the facility that will upgrade both its appearance and operations. Home to the Nationals, the ballpark is the first MLB stadium to earn LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). And Blush is busy researching options—among them LED lighting and wind power—that will further “green” the facility.

A Green Playing Field 

Shortly before the park opened in March 2008, it was awarded silver level certification from the USGBC under the LEED for New Construction 2.2 rating system. With 34 points achieved (silver level range is 33 to 38), the architectural design team for the project fulfilled the most points, proportionally, in the Sustainable Sites category (12 of a possible 14). Several items that enabled the project to make an impact in that category included placing it on a brownfields redevelopment site, facilitating alternative transportation by siting it near mass transit, employing fuel efficient vehicles (a fleet of 23 electric cars), and implementing an ambitious stormwater management infrastructure program.

The stormwater management system at the ballpark was designed to reduce the amount of water that would require processing by municipal water treatment facilities. Another goal was to minimize stormwater runoff (and any pollutants contained therein) entering the nearby Anacostia River.

A multi-pronged approach was employed to achieve these goals. The designers created a filtration system that would separate rainwater runoff from the water being used to hose down the park after a game.

To handle stormwater, five underground sand filters, spanning 20′ x 40′, are buried in the outfield. These multi-chamber systems capture debris (such as peanut shells) that makes its way into the drains. Groundwater is also collected in underground vaults, where the sand filter system treats it for contaminants and transports it into the river.

Not all of the water used by the park travels through the on-site treatment system. Sewage and the water from post-game wash downs are rerouted to a sanitary infrastructure system, which transports that water to the municipal water treatment plant.

Other areas where the design team reduced environmental impact include: low energy field lighting (expected to use 20% less energy than traditional field lighting); water conserving fixtures in restrooms and food prep areas (with anticipated savings of 3.6 million gallons per year); a single stream recycling program that diverts about 80% of common waste items (glass, metal, plastic, cardboard, and paper) from landfills; materials with low VOC content; and a 6,300 square foot garden roof (donated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation) atop a concession structure.

Another seemingly small (though effective) energy saving design strategy was to specify mechanical turnstiles for entry and exit. By using mechanical models, the designers were able to eliminate energy usage from that aspect of the ballpark.

Commenting on the LEED certification that Nationals Park has been awarded, Blush says, “Helmuth Obata & Kassabaum (HOK) [one of the architectural firms for the project] did a wonderful job designing the ballpark. The materials they used, along with the planning of power and water systems [provided a good foundation]. We want to make sure we keep things moving to keep the park at the leading edge of environmental friendly usage.”
A Chat With Matthew Blush, director of ballpark operations, Nationals Park
What are your responsibilities at Nationals Park? I am responsible for the day to day operations of the ballpark, which include all of the maintenance, engineering aspects, and event set ups. I coordinate things between department heads here, and I also deal with the police department, the fire department, and other government security departments.
How long have you worked for the Nationals? I have worked for the team since July 2006 when ownership was transferred [to The Lerner Group]. I worked for team ownership before it purchased the Nationals.
How long have you been in the facility management profession? Since 2006. I had been in construction development for 26 years prior.
What changes have occurred in the sports industry since your tenure with the Nationals? Security has changed a lot. That’s a constantly changing aspect, because of threats that you might get in different areas. The other thing that is changing is the environmental part of the job. We are finding more and more things we can do, and many things are becoming less costly to do.
With the stadium up and running, what other projects are you working on? We are in the process of creating a comprehensive checklist of everything that needs to be done in the ballpark during an emergency event. We plan to have it complete within a year or so.

Fitting Into The Fabric

While LEED certification was a prime goal set by the DC Sports and Entertainment Commission (the entity which owns the facility), the appearance of the ballpark was also a major focus. Working in collaboration, HOK of Kansas City, MO and Devrouax & Purnell Architects of Washington, DC designed the 41,888 seat stadium to fit in visually with the monumental architecture prevalent in Washington. Achieving this required the design team to evaluate the city’s buildings to determine what elements could be translated into a baseball stadium.

The facility is located in the southeast section of the city, removed from traditional tourist areas. It is sited across the street from the Anacostia River, which flows into the Potomac River. The designers aimed to link the stadium visually to the iconic architecture that distinguishes the capital. To that end, the team chose to model the façade in keeping with the limestone materials prevalent in the city’s monuments.

Jim Chibnall, senior project designer with HOK Sport, recalls, “We spent a great deal of time walking around the city studying the buildings—not only the monumental and museum architecture, but some less public places as well. We wanted to include the fabric of the city, overall. We looked at structures in [the] Georgetown [neighborhood], for instance. A number of buildings influenced the final design.

“We had our sights set on limestone in the beginning,” Chibnall continues. “However, it was cost prohibitive, and we eventually decided on pre-cast concrete. The pre-casting company we used is very knowledgeable. And by working with the right mixes of sand and stone, we came up with an option that looks very much like limestone.”

Another requirement was for the inside of the stadium to “convey an open viewing experience for fans from the maximum number of positions within the park,” explains Chibnall. In addition to positioning seats to meet this objective, the design team also ensured that fans would be able to view the playing field from many vantage points (e.g., concession stands, concourses, ramps). A striking example of this is the fact that the field can be seen by visitors as soon as they enter the park’s centerfield gate.

Into Next Season

From his position in operations, Blush is focused on retaining—and furthering—the sustainable aspects of the ballpark. Alluding to the Nationals’ distinction of playing in the first LEED certified MLB stadium, he says, “Other parks will come online LEED certified, but I want to stay on the leading edge. We are looking at new ways to do that now.”

Strategies for energy use are at the forefront. Blush explains he is looking into the viability of replacing the fluorescent lighting for the stadium walkways with LED lighting. “The costs are still higher than other lighting choices,” he says, “but I think it will be a good investment.”

Alternative energy sources are also on the list of sustainable strategies being considered. (The facility earned a LEED credit for green power through the purchase of 14.6 million kWh of renewable energy credits—representing 70% of expected consumption over two years.) However, on-site options have not yet been employed.

The roofs above the upper deck seats are potential spots to place wind turbines, notes Blush. And the top levels of two on-site parking decks are candidates for solar canopies. “Not only could I add another level of covered parking,” says Blush, “but it would also help energy consumption.”

A second green roof may also come to fruition. With maintenance of the existing green roof under control, Blush is open to the idea of installing another above a concession stand on the main concourse level.

“These decisions will come down to how the studies [of cost-benefit] come out and if a strategy will work here,” he says.

Blush and his staff monitor the performance and costs of existing facility systems to ensure expected results are achieved—and to be informed in case changes are needed. “Once the first year [of operation] is completed, we will review all of the costs, what we used, how we can save, and where ideally we want to be. So far, we have hit our targets in terms of consumption and costs. At the end of the first year, we will see what improvements we can make and what we need to do to keep up the LEED certification.”

An energy saving strategy Blush has implemented is turning the field lights on no more than 30 minutes before the start of a game. He explains that common practice is to turn lights on about two hours before game time to ensure proper working order. However, the operations staff tests the lights each day for 15 minutes. By parsing the testing, energy consumption for that task is reduced.

The regular baseball season is over, and while that should slow down things at Nationals Park (special events notwithstanding), Blush doesn’t plan to reduce his focus on improvements. “Almost every day, I am looking to run things more efficiently,” he says. “We alter policies and procedures if we think it will make a change for the better. I don’t think the improvements will ever stop. We want people to continue to enjoy coming here.”

In terms of sustainability, Blush acknowledges that some strategies may not make it into the park. “It has been a learning curve. There are some things that just aren’t practical.” Still, with the team’s ownership intent on maintaining its place as “America’s greenest ballpark,” Nationals Park will be in good hands with Blush.

This article was based on interviews with Blush and Chibnall.


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