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Nothing But Net

A net-zero building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements.

Actually, it’s net-zero and quite a bit more.

In a diverse community where equity, inclusion and sustainability are part of its fabric, Oak Park, IL has opened the Community Recreation Center (CRC).

Designed by Perkins & Will and built by B&A, the net-zero building offers a wide range of programming for people of all ages and abilities. Informed by community surveys and meetings with residents, the three-story, 42,000 sq. ft. brick, metal and glass community center serves as a focal point in this historic city just west of downtown Chicago.

The multipurpose center’s features range from a fitness center, indoor gym and walking track to community meeting rooms and new offices. Free after-school programs for students and an esports lounge were among the specific recommendations from teenagers – part of the community’s vision that the center be a welcoming space for all, not just athletes. The community embraced inclusive bathrooms, locker rooms and a lactation room that provide for people of all ages, genders and needs.

To fit into a tight urban environment and maximize space, programming reached upward. The gym is located on the second floor, elevated above a parking area at grade and windows are flush against the exterior to provide a higher vantage point for views of the Chicago skyline.

The three-story atrium is alive with activity, vibrancy and transparency. Sightlines and the savvy use of color draw attention to an array of activities. A bright yellow tower, extending the height of the atrium, is the first sign of the primary color that is used to convey warmth, excitement and a welcoming atmosphere.

A grand staircase in the center of the lobby takes visitors to the second level that hosts a fitness center and a gymnasium with basketball courts. A bridge across the lobby connects users to a multipurpose group fitness studio. Suspended above the gym is a walking track, which takes advantage of the open space and provides views to the surrounding neighborhood and downtown Chicago.

Designed as a net-zero building, triple-paned glazing was an essential building component to meet this goal. Arrays of photovoltaics on the roof, south façade and a canopy on the adjacent parking lot generate enough energy to exceed demands of the building. Estimates indicate the panels will save $80,000/year in energy costs. The building takes advantage of the site’s east-west orientation, locating most glazing to the north along Madison Avenue. This allows interior spaces to benefit from ample daylight and passersby to view the activity within. The south and west façades have limited openings which accomplishes two goals: respecting the neighbors’ privacy while reducing solar gain. Battery storage is provided for spaces to remain functional during outages.

The Park District of Oak Park and the larger community are leaders in DEI and sustainability. According to Ben Steele, senior project manager for the assignment, the net-zero construction of the CRC has elevated these initiatives for the entire area. “I am proud to have been a part of a project that has had such a positive impact on the community and is also a model for energy savings. This project epitomizes the level of sustainability that can be achieved when vision meets dedication.”