Thomas Farm Community Center: a Model for Green Building

By Nicholas Christopher, last updated 4/10/12 09:16am


About a decade ago, developers were planning to extend Gude Drive north past 28. In drawing up their plan, they failed to take topology into account: the proposed extension would have been built uphill at exorbitant costs, and completely uprooted a natural upland forest. Thanks to Burt Hall, the director of Rockville’s Rec & Parks Department, and other city officials, the project was sensibly rerouted.

A green construction project

[postcard:3]Today, Thomas Farm Community Center has been built on the site that would have been the beginning of the Gude extension. The Center won the Peerless Rockville Preservation Award in 2009 for its innovative, environmentally-conscious construction, and for its commitment to preserving nine acres of the original forest. Most of the flora around the center is original, and requires minimal watering.

Heating and cooling for the center is provided by a geothermal system of 42 deep wells and pumps that control the flow of water between ground and building. The city can regulate the system via laptop, on-site or remotely via iNet.

[postcard:4]All new schools constructed in Montgomery County are now required to use geothermal. In fact, the new Richard Montgomery High School has 350 wells. Because of its use of geothermal energy, Thomas Farm’s budget for electricity and natural gas is $21,000 per year less than Twinbrook Community Recreation Center’s, despite being 5,000 square feet larger.

What it means for you

Unfortunately, geothermal is still largely impractical for private housing, because of the high up-front costs and the breadth and depth that the wells require. However, other environmentally-friendly technologies used in the construction of TFCC are available and inexpensive for private citizens looking to build or upgrade their homes. Some examples:

-water-based paints with recycled materials “to reduce potential health and environmental effects” associated with other paints.

-low-emissivity windows, which help keep heat from escaping, and are generally more expensive but can eventually pay for themselves by lowering heating costs.

-skylights to minimize the daytime use of electric lights; and light fixtures (with compact fluorescent lights) which adjust their wattage based on the amount of natural light in a room, saving money and energy.

[postcard:5]Pervious pavement, which costs about the same as regular pavement, allows water to seep through this porous material instead of going over it. This facilitates the important environmental process of groundwater recharge, and eliminates the city’s need to construct storm-water management facilities.

These are a few of the many sustainable features being used at TFCC. According to Hall, the economically and environmentally sensible model of construction employed at Thomas Farm will be looked to as a guide for future development projects. The Rockville swim center is a prime candidate for a future upgrade: its large pool rooms represent high energy costs. The City of Rockville is eyeing a future of sustainability and minimized environmental impact—and we can inexpensively do the same.

Filed under Tech & Science, Renewable energy / energy saving, Other environmental

Login to add a comment.  Forgot your password?  Need an account?

Your email: Password: