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Sports complex gets its kicks by going green

Soccer players on the indoor field at Players Paradise Sports Complex in Stoney Creek, Ont.

Players Paradise

It's a typical grey morning in the middle of a reluctant Ontario spring - chilly and spitting rain. But inside Players Paradise Sports Complex in Stoney Creek, Ont., the shouts of athletes playing touch football echo throughout the cavernous space.

The players are not only sparing themselves the inclement weather, however. They are giving the environment a break as well.

"I know there's a lot of environmental factors they considered when they built the building," said footballer Steve Gagliardi. "So you feel like you're not wasting electricity when we could be playing outside." He added: "It actually feels like we are outside, because we're not using the lights."

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Half the lights normally needed to illuminate the regulation FIFA-sized field are on overhead. Despite the dull day, three walls of massive, insulated windows and 52-foot ceilings help give players the uncanny impression of being outside. The windows cut down considerably on the amount of electricity the complex uses, said Tasha Mazza-Kelton, president of Players Paradise Sports Complex Inc. That, in turn, allowed the company to invest in higher-quality hardware.

"There are benefits not just from an energy-saving standpoint," she said, "but also from an aesthetic standpoint. A lot of people don't want to play inside because they feel it's a warehouse. But here you don't feel like you're boxed in."

Aside from energy, the sports complex - the only green building of its kind in Canada, according to its owners - has also reduced water use. A 10,000-gallon tank beneath the parking lot recycles rainwater for the toilets. What's more, solar panels being installed on the roof will generate 230 kilowatts of electricity for the regional grid, through a program set up by Hamilton's Horizon Utilities Corp.

But the facility's most noteworthy green feature is the turf. Players Paradise chief executive officer Paul Mazza sourced it locally, from Stoney Creek-based Artificial Grass & Landscaping. It lies on a thick bed of silt topped with 1,500 tons of pulverized, recycled rubber from discarded tires.

The athletes say it cuts down on slipping and injuries. "It's so much better for the players," said Mike Morreale, a receiver with 12 years in the Canadian Football League. Like Mr. Gagliardi, the former Hamilton Tiger Cat was competing in one of the complex's in-house league playoffs. "I can tell you, if this [surface]was around years ago when I first started playing, it would have prolonged a whole lot of players' careers as well."

The complex has been open a little more than a year. "Since we were new we were able to do certain things other buildings were not," said Ms. Mazza-Kelton. "You have the advantage of saying, 'If we can do things green, if we can do things consciously to try and better the environment, let's do that.'"

Yet this kind of sustainability also carries a financial incentive, she said. "When you're operating a building of this size, even two per cent savings, multiplied by a hundred thousand square feet, makes a big difference," she said. With more and more energy-efficient options in construction materials available, she added, "It's not so cost-prohibitive to install. You're not waiting 20 years to reap the benefits and make a return on your investment."

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For Susan Lewin, chair of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other metrics are "helping create a lot of precedents that inspire people."

Ms. Lewin is seeing "a major push" toward green buildings operating on all levels, she said, based both on the increasing availability of ecologically sound construction materials - from water-efficient plumbing to low volatile-organic-compound paint and carpet - and regulatory policy.

Many public buildings now require minimum LEED levels in tendering proposals. "It was meant to be a voluntary system," said Ms. Lewin, an architect at CS&P Architects Inc. in Toronto, "but it's now moving to become mandatory. And the Ontario building code is presently being revised to increase water conservation targets and energy efficiency requirements."

The rationale for the programs like LEED, she added, "is to drive green buildings to become mainstream. They are really driving change - environmental, social and economic change. They're encouraging high building standards over all [and]helping overcome some of the barriers to green buildings that have traditionally existed, such as a lack of public awareness and entrenched code and policy requirements that don't facilitate them."

Professional sports league and stadium owners are curious about Players Paradise, says Ms. Mazza-Kelton. "The number of people who have flown in to see this facility and are specifically interested in the green features is unbelievable," she said. "They're saying 'We've got to build a facility of this nature.'"

David Chernushenko, an Ottawa city councillor and former member of the International Olympic Committee's Sport and Environment Commission, says there is a natural fit between sport and sustainability. "Of all the people who should not be doing things the old and harmful way, who should be leading the charge, it's sports people," he said.

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Recent Olympic games, with a few exceptions, have taken on the issue of sustainable building, he said. "The curve has steadily gone up, starting with Lillehammer [Norway, in 1994] Vancouver did a really great job on many fronts, and incorporated the social sustainability side as well," he pointed out.

As a result, green building is now part of the bidding criteria for the Olympics, he said, with "aspiring hosts trying to out-green each other."

Note: An earlier version of this story misidentified the LEED designation (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and had an incorrect number for the weight of shredded tires used in the turf. .

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