A Publication of WTVP

When it comes to sustainability, Illinois Central College is practicing what it teaches.

With innovative academic programs in solar technology and “green building,” a new sports and recreation facility that serves as a showcase for conserving natural resources, and a solid rating in sustainable performance among colleges and universities nationwide, Illinois Central College (ICC) is clearly demonstrating its commitment to making sustainability “an integral part of our college practices,” according to ICC President John S. Erwin, Ph.D.

Dr. Erwin credits ICC’s Board of Trustees with passing a sustainability policy that “gives direction and support of current and future challenges we will face in our community, nation and world. Collectively, all areas of the college are committed to not only raising awareness of, but acting on issues of sustainability.” An important step forward involved ICC’s recent application to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, which netted the college a prestigious bronze rating through its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

ICC is also part of a network of higher education institutions that have signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which focuses on the elimination of net greenhouse gas emissions from certain campus operations. The commitment includes an agreement to complete an emissions inventory and develop a plan and schedule for the campus to become “climate-neutral.”

Focus on Sustainable Design & Construction

As the college focuses on sustainable initiatives, the development and operation of energy-efficient, high-performance facilities has become a crucial factor. The opening of the new CougarPlex, as one example, reflects not only ICC’s high standards for green building, but its commitment to supporting a sustainable lifestyle for students and faculty as well.

The recent transformation of an existing 37-year-old gym into the expansive CougarPlex added 54,000 square feet and renovated an additional 9,000 square feet of space on the college’s East Peoria campus. The popular facility, designed by the Peoria office of Dewberry, is registered for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED-Silver certification and reflects an array of sustainable strategies and technologies.

Serving a Growing Enrollment

The CougarPlex serves many purposes for ICC. With more than 8,700 square feet of fitness space, a recreation gym with three multi-purpose courts, a three-lane track, and more than 50 pieces of cardio equipment, the building offers ample space for students to gather, work out, attend fitness classes and play a variety of recreational sports, including basketball and volleyball. The facility provides enhanced conditioning and practice spaces for ICC’s athletic teams, and new classrooms and resources have allowed for the expansion of the college’s physical education curriculum, including programs in sports management and athletic training. A hall of fame for the athletic program has a new home within the building, and other amenities include new locker rooms and a student lounge.

“Students have fully embraced the facility,” says Dr. Erwin. “There are many popular classes. They’re enjoying the fitness circuit equipment, and the running track enables them to enjoy long-distance running even during the winter months. Intramural sports such as basketball have become more popular than ever before.”

Dr. Erwin uses the CougarPlex Fitness Center on a regular basis, along with many other administrators and faculty members. “We’re seeing more interest in the fitness facilities from both students and the faculty,” he says. “They want to be physically fit, and the exercise also helps reduce stress. It’s all part of promoting a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.”

Dr. Erwin also points to the flexibility of the CougarPlex as a venue for large gatherings. “The facility works well for events like College Night or commencement. With draping and decorations in place, it’s a beautiful space. We can gather in one place on campus, which wasn’t possible before.”

A Sustainable Showcase

The many benefits of the CougarPlex include its ability to serve as a sustainable showcase, with numerous energy-efficient and conservation-friendly design features. Highlights include a vegetated roof planted with sedum, a flowering plant that blooms in the spring and turns to a vivid burgundy color in the fall. The resilient plant clusters help minimize the roof’s heat island effect and provide stormwater management.

The plants along the lower roof line are among the building’s visual highlights, as is a striking composition of metal panels that provide sun shading along the glass-fronted lobby and vestibule. The panels, constructed of perforated aluminum, minimize heat gain and glare from the sun while preserving natural daylight in the interior.

The impact of the panels is not only functional, but aesthetic. “In the evening, there is a pretty play of light along the polished metal exterior,” says Dr. Erwin. “For me, it was an unexpected highlight of the design—we have blue lighting around the perimeter at night and the colors really dance off of the metal.”

Other green building features include energy-efficient building systems and extensive use of materials containing recycled content and low amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The glass curtain walls have high-performance glazing that, along with the metal sun shades, reduce heat gain while allowing abundant natural light to permeate the building. Many construction materials, including the brick and aluminum panels, were sourced in the Midwest, and 90 percent of the construction waste was recycled.

“We’re an educational institution,” says Dr. Erwin. “We offer a Green Building Environment degree. It only makes sense that we should practice what we teach. The CougarPlex not only promotes a sustainable lifestyle through fitness and wellness, it is also a model for students in terms of the conservative use of resources and the importance of lowering our carbon footprint.” iBi

Ray Lees is a principal with the architecture/engineering firm Dewberry, a national leader in the design of recreational and fitness facilities.