By Luke Carothers

The Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center at Colby College–located in Waterville, Maine–was opened in August 2020.  Awarded both LEED Platinum and SITES Gold certifications, this unique 350,000 square foot facility houses a multi-use fieldhouse with a 200-meter track and tennis courts, an ice arena, an Olympic-sized pool, a competition gymnasium for basketball and volleyball, squash courts, a strength and fitness center, and multi-purpose studios, supported by locker rooms, sports medicine facilities, and offices.  

Colby College Athletic Center. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann

Colby College fields teams that compete at the Division III level, and the opening of this new facility is critical to supporting not only the growing population of athletes at the school, but also in attracting future students.  However, while the new facility helps Colby College’s students compete athletically, it also represents a tremendous commitment to sustainability.  While large scale athletics and sports facilities are not often awarded sustainability designations–let alone two–the Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center is designed with systems to facilitate sustainable practices such as daylight harvesting, air system energy recovery wheels, and a pool heating system powered by excess waste heat.

One of the firms responsible for this unique approach to athletics and sports facilities is Arup, a leading global green building consultancy and engineering firm.  For this project, Arup collaborated with Sasaki and Hopkins Architects to provide structural, MEP, and fire protection engineering as well as acoustics, audio visual, facades, and IT/communications.  Arup capitalized on their experience working on world class sports facilities such as the Beijing Bird’s Nest and Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium to develop sustainable solutions for the facility.  Patrick McCafferty, the Education Business Leader for Arup’s Americas East Region, describes Arup’s plan for the project as “ambitious.”  This ambition was proven correct as the Center was the first SITES project in Maine and New England to receive accreditation at the Gold level.

Colby College Athletic Center. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann

From the project’s earliest designs, the two main focus areas were reducing both energy and water use.  Arup’s team worked closely with award-winning global design firm Sasaki as well as Hopkins Architects to develop an array of sustainable solutions to achieve these goals.  McCafferty notes that, by using insights and analysis from multidisciplinary experts early in the design process, they were able to realize this portfolio of sustainable solutions and maximize the Center’s energy performance, conserve water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and embodied carbon.  The end result is an energy usage 47 percent below the code baseline.  

The structure of the building itself is designed with sustainability as the highest priority.  Arup’s structural engineers again collaborated with Sasaki and Hopkins to create a structural solution that would maximize floor area and future flexibility, while also minimizing embodied carbon and construction cost.  McCafferty notes that Arup’s experience paid off, as the first step to conceiving a holistic structural solution was an exhaustive desk study of Arup’s successful past precedents of long-span structural system options.  The team finally converged on an “extremely difficult” hybrid trussed tied-arch/vaulted portal steel frame configuration.  Not only did this solution maximize the usable volume within each distinct venue, but it also maintained a consistent, beautiful aesthetic across the entire complex.  

Colby College Athletic Center. Photo: Jeremy Bittermann

Once the structural form was agreed upon with the architectural team, Arup’s structural engineering team derived a structural optimization routine, harnessing the power of tens of thousands of iterative computational analyses to remove any remaining under-utilized steel from the system.  To inform these computational analyses, RWDI conducted extensive laboratory flume testing of the building to refine the site’s exceptionally high wind and snow loading requirements given Maine’s extreme weather conditions.  The result of this approach was an extremely lightweight and beautiful structural system.  Additionally, this design minimized construction time by leveraging formal modularity and off-site prefabrication.  This design process reduced the building’s steel tonnage by 20 percent and the corresponding volume of concrete required by five percent relative to conventional design solutions.  These measures lowered the structure’s embodied carbon by approximately 800 tons–the equivalent of driving a car two million miles.

Colby College’s Harold Alfond Athletics and Recreation Center completion in 2020 provides a blueprint for other similar projects moving forward.  As colleges and universities seek to update aging athletic facilities, this project is evidence that this can be done while also placing sustainability goals at the forefront.  By involving sustainability solutions at every stage in the design process, this project has provided not only state-of-the-art facilities to Colby College’s students, but also a blueprint for sustainability in this sector moving forward.


Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.  

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