Opinion | Choose a firm with Zero Net Carbon expertise for Piedmont’s new pool facility

Exciting news! This coming Monday, Sept. 27, City Council (with help from a selection committee of City Council and staff) will choose the design/engineering (D/E) firm that will prepare the final design of Piedmont’s new community pool.  The D/E firm will create the definitive drawings and specifications to which the pools and pool house will be built.  In more good news, eight firms applied for the job.

What remains to be seen is which criteria the selection committee will prioritize to award the contract.  The RFP clearly spells out required professional qualifications as a first criterion, but the project output is not as clearly described, providing fewer objective criteria for evaluating the relative fit for this specific project when sifting through the applicants.  No doubt applicants have provided portfolios of their completed pool projects but Piedmont’s project is somewhat unique in both its space constraints and its diverse array of user profiles.  This aquatics complex must provide for the needs of water sports teams’ training and competitions, community recreational use, devoted lap swimmers, and swim learners of all ages. 

Moreover, since this pool is expected to serve Piedmonters for 50 years, it cannot be powered with natural gas.  The water volume of the former pools was one-third the anticipated volume of the larger new pools and, even so, the prior pool facility accounted for approximately two-thirds of the City of Piedmont’s total greenhouse gas emissions annually.  Therefore, even to meet Piedmont’s outdated and insufficient 2017 Climate Action Plan goals (decreasing in-boundary emissions 40% before 2030, 80% before 2050), the D/E firm must have the skills and technical capabilities to address how this bigger pool facility can be operated without polluting local air and exacerbating our climate crisis. In brief, the pool has to be bleeding-edge green if it’s going to serve Piedmont until 2070. The City should prioritize hiring a D/E firm with strong energy credentials and demonstrated expertise.

While the RFP does state that “the pool” will be built to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy Design) Silver certification, this is a red herring which may mislead residents into believing that the new pool facility will be comparatively climate beneficial. First, and most importantly, LEED certification only applies to buildings, not to pools. So, while the pool house may receive LEED Silver certification, it would mean little if the new pools are heated by natural gas, because the pools will generate the vast majority of the facility’s greenhouse gas emissions.  Thus, receiving LEED Silver certification for the building alone will cost money (one must pay to receive the label) all the while allowing the pool facility to potentially triple its annual greenhouse gas emissions (say, what!?). This, in our opinion, would not be a logical, beneficial, nor productive use of our limited taxpayer-granted funding.  Better to invest in the substance of building a fossil-free, energy-efficient facility and forgo the nicety of the branded label on a small piece of the overall project.  Second, since the LEED Silver certification is only slightly beyond the lowest level LEED Basic Certification, it would represent a lackluster achievement, inconsistent with Piedmont’s normally higher-level aspirations.

Worse still, some are proposing that the pools be designed to burn methane (aka natural gas) initially but allow for a phased-in conversion to clean electrical later.  We advise strongly against this dilatory approach. Not only does that increase the public’s cumulative costs (and where would the money come from once Measure UU’s $19 million is spent?) but, given the severe and erratic weather patterns with which we are now threatened, it is tantamount to thumbing our noses at the generation we are currently raising, who will be asked to correct the mistakes we would be permitting ourselves to continue to make.

Designing Piedmont’s new aquatics facility to be powered entirely by electricity is, indeed, a challenge but Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) facilities are being built (The first 10 LEED Zero projects | U.S. Green Building Council) and must be given the weather extremes which are occurring and which scientists predict will worsen this decade.  The City should at least explicitly articulate a ZNC pool design as one of our highest priority criteria for the new pool complex. Piedmont recently recognized the need for fossil-free design by prohibiting the use of natural gas in new residential construction. The City should abide by the same energy standards in their own construction projects to which they ask their residents to adhere.  Piedmont Connect’s technical feasibility study has shown how the right mix of onsite solar power generation and heat-pump technology, can achieve a ZNC pool for Piedmont and, with assistance from experienced D/E architects we can do this–  let’s do it for the kids (and their kids)!

Hopefully, on Monday, the Council’s selection committee will challenge the D/E firms to explain specifically how they can achieve a ZNC pool.  Ultimately, the selection committee should select a D/E firm that has experience with ZNC/ZNE design.  That experience need not necessarily be in designing pools per se; creative ZNC/ZNE design is being implemented in many different types of projects.  There’s a nice example right across the street from our pool:  the new PHS STEAM building.  Once it is fully-equipped with solar panels, it may apply to be certified as a ZNE building.  The City should follow PUSD’s lead and design a ZNC/ZNE pool to “Achieve the Honorable” as PHS’s motto proposes.

4 thoughts on “Opinion | Choose a firm with Zero Net Carbon expertise for Piedmont’s new pool facility

  1. Deadly floods in Tennessee, NY, China and elsewhere. California and the West Coast suffering the worst Fire season likely ever with air being polluted on the East Coast. Citrus trees in Sicily shedding fruit in order to survive excessive heat. Mundane events like polar ice caps melting are no long even back page news.

    Piedmont’s new pool, about 3 times large in water volume than the old pool, will rely on natural gas heating? No solar panels are envisioned? Evidently there is no climate change problem in Piedmont. Redo the RFP so that Piedmont reflects climate change reality. We are not immune.

  2. I support the position stated in this article, in particular the statement:
    “Piedmont recently recognized the need for fossil-free design by prohibiting the use of natural gas in new residential construction. The City should abide by the same energy standards in their own construction projects to which they ask their residents to adhere. “

  3. Thanks David. Appreciate your comments. Do you think LEED silver is the appropriate “green” level for the pool? USGBC now has a LEED – Zero standard. .What we are suggesting is that the review committee just look for candidates with ZNC experience – that shouldn’t slow the project down. With due respect, I don’t think we can make compromises on the pool for the sake of expediency.

  4. I am an architect that completed numerous public sector projects many of them green projects. I regret with many of your comments regarding the priorities for the pool project. One thing that the selection committee should remember is that we are experiencing a period of numerous projects proposed and constructed, so teams are Stretched to cover all their obligations. The city and selecting team should ensure that they have an experienced senior team that is personally dedicated to seeing the project to fruition.

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