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Marlins turn Florida's Orange Bowl green

By David Wilke, CNN
A digital image of how the Florida Marlins' new stadium will look when construction is finished in spring 2012.
A digital image of how the Florida Marlins' new stadium will look when construction is finished in spring 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Green building practices in use at site of new Florida Marlins stadium
  • Stadium will feature waterless urinals and low energy glass
  • "Greening" a facility has become more cost effective in recent years
  • Construction expected to be completed by spring 2012

Miami (CNN) -- The tools and tradesman building the new home for the Florida Marlins are typical of any construction site. The difference here is that this building is green.

"We separate all of our on site trash. Anything that is recyclable in terms of metal goes into a metal dumpster," said Sid Perkins, the site's construction manager.

Perkins, a veteran of many ballpark constructions, including most recently Citi Field, the new home of the New York Mets, said in the past construction material has taken up about 40 percent of the nation's landfills.

But at this site, the crew is recycling 98 percent of their building waste.

A long-fought-for stadium for the Marlins may signify a bold new future for the team. But the way they are going about building it could mean even better news for Miami and the surrounding area going forward.

A lot of what really makes a difference in sustainable design is not sexy.
--Jon Knight, Populous

They are installing 249 waterless urinals that will save them more than 11 million gallons of water a year. And the low energy glass around the stadium will cut its energy consumption by letting Miami's bright sun shine in most days.

The design firm behind the stadium says its "green" elements reflect a recent shift in the building industry.

There's no question that it changed substantially particularly over the last five years," says architect Brad Clark, whose firm, Populous, designed the new Marlins Stadium, along with 36 other sport facilities over the past 15 years.

"Fifteen years ago, 20 years ago, if we did one of these projects there would be literally no discussion about sustainability."

That's no longer the case, as more and more team owners try to get their new buildings LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are several levels of awards in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. The Marlins are hoping for silver certification, but could make gold if they gather enough points in their design and construction.

"From solar lights to charging stations in our parking garages to putting in a recycling program that will be second to none, we want to be leaders in this field," said Claude Delorme, the Marlins Executive Vice President in charge of Stadium Development.

Points are awarded for everything from installing bike racks to the type of water faucets used.

The LEED designation has become all the rage in professional sports at the tail end of a stadium building boom, that has slowed, not because of the economy, but because there just aren't that many teams left that need a new facility.

Fifteen years ago, 20 years ago, if we did one of these projects there would be literally no discussion about sustainability
--Brad Clark, Populous
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"Owners, operators are starting to realize that being smart about design can actually go to the bottom line and make buildings less expensive to operate over the life of the building," said Jon Knight, another Populous architect. "There are some clients that say we don't want to do it if it costs money and those are the ones you really have to work on and educate and help them understand that it really doesn't cost that much more money."

According to Knight and Clark the estimates of "greening a facility" used to run at around an additional four or five percent of the construction cost. But as parts and practices have become more commonplace, and metrics have been discovered to accurately measure the effectiveness of the environmentally friendly systems, they say those costs usually come out more around one percent or even less.

"A lot of what really makes a difference in sustainable design is not sexy," says Knight. "It's about mechanical systems and reducing water consumption. It's not things that look cool."

While owners can't always see the beauty in energy-efficient designs, many can now appreciate the savings.

"We think if you can do it for a facility like a baseball setting with a retractable roof there shouldn't be one building in the United States that shouldn't be LEED compliant," Delorme adds. "So hopefully it sets the stage for a lot of others to follow."

Many are already gaining LEED credentials.

The Pittsburgh Penguins new arena was awarded LEED gold upon its opening this October, the first hockey arena to be so honored, and the Washington Nationals Ballpark opened with LEED Silver certification in 2008.

In an even bolder step, the Philadelphia Eagles are retro-fitting their seven-year-old stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, with solar panels and wind turbines next season in an attempt to generate enough energy to power the entire facility.

Those are the big steps, but there are plenty of small steps being taken as well. Fenway Park, the 98-year-old home to the Boston Red Sox has installed 28 solar panels on the roof, enough to provide 37 percent of the energy needed to heat the stadium's water. It's a minor step by baseball's oldest ballpark, but when the famous Green Monster gets greener, can others be far behind?

Knight believes that someday soon "it will just become part of our practice. It won't be LEED anymore, it will become part of building code." And when that day comes, the Marlins new ballpark really will be typical in every way, and very special because of it.