COLORADO SPRINGS — The Pikes Peak Summit Visitors Center was designed with sustainability in mind. Careful consideration was given during the planning, design, and construction phases of the project so that every aspect of the new facility would minimize the impact on the environment and better benefit the people who come here to enjoy it.
The energy savings of the building allowed it to qualify for the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver level certification. The designers also strived to achieve the International Living Future Institute's more ambitious and eco-friendly Living Building Challenge.
"We looked at our water usage, our energy usage, our carbon footprint, and really looked at the entire summit impact, not only for our operations but for every guest that came to visit," explained Sandy Elliott, Parks Operations Administrator for Pikes Peak America's Mountain.
The building is "sunk in" to the summit of the mountain and faces more to the south than its predecessor to take advantage of more sunlight and reduce energy consumption. The conditions at 14,000 feet aren't optimal for using solar panels. So, Pikes Peak purchases solar energy credits at 105 percent of their energy needs.
There is also a wastewater treatment facility on-site that filters "grey water" from the sink drains and reuses it to help flush the toilets.
Elliott explained that water is brought in by truck each day to serve the facility and the sewage is hauled away. After a month of operation, she's already noticing a sharp drop in water consumption at the facility. The former Summit house used to use about a gallon of water per visitor per day.
"The new facility, right now, we're at about 0.4 gallons and we're still fine-tuning all the systems," Elliott said.
In the cafe, aluminum cans have replaced plastic water bottles because they are easier to recycle. The materials used in construction were also selected to reduce the environmental impact at the manufacturing level. For example, the plumbing avoided the use of PVC pipes.
The designers were also deliberate in planning a facility with the people in mind who will use it. A system of ramps and pathways guides the public through the facility and can be used regardless of physical ability. It also helps to protect native vegetation and animals.
Windows were added to allow natural light for employees who work in non-public areas of the building.
"It's those small steps, yes it was very challenging to achieve the goals, but I think it makes a huge difference in the long run," Elliott said.
She estimates that between 800,000 and 1 million people will visit the Summit Visitors Center each year. The building was built with a growing population in mind.
Recognition for the Living Building Challenge is not immediately awarded. Instead, there is a two-year process after construction is complete in which the various elements of the design strategy are measured.
Elliott produced a series of short videos that describe the Summit Visitor Center's achievements in greater detail. Click here to view those videos.