Dec 11, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Jon Lamson | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
There are few subjects on campus that elicit the same emotional response among Colorado College students as the in-construction Ed Robson Arena. While much of the student discussion and debate around the new hockey arena has focused on the destruction of on-campus student housing, the B-Side Collective music space, and Wooglin’s Deli — alongside questions about the need for a 3,407 seat hockey arena for a student body of just over 2,000 — the project also provides insight into the college’s priorities and commitments to sustainability and the environment.
Based on the recommendation of the campus sustainability council and the success of the zero-energy Tutt Library, President Jill Tiefenthaler set the goal of creating “the first net-zero energy consumption ice arena in the U.S.” with the Ed Robson Arena in 2019. However, it is now apparent that this goal will not be met, due to the costs it would require. According to Ian Johnson, the college’s director of sustainability, “as other design parameters also began to be added, cost became a concern and many design items were changed through the architectural design process known as ‘value engineering.’” Value engineering is essentially substituting materials and methods to cut costs.
Johnson says that while the new arena is not set to be “net zero carbon on its own,” the project is expected to decrease overall campus emissions and be “significantly more efficient than the facilities it is replacing.” Increased efficiency is set to be achieved by improvements throughout the building process, including low-emissivity windows, perforated metal sun screens around the building, thick exterior walls, and a highly reflective roof. It will also be compatible with solar panels on the roofs of the arena and parking garage. This arena is the first major construction project at the college since the school achieved carbon neutrality earlier this year. Carbon neutrality was reached largely through emissions reductions and by buying carbon offsets.
The Robson Arena’s energy use is projected to be 20.2% more efficient than the building standards that were used, and over three times more efficient per square foot than the Honnen Arena, which it is set to replace (though we were not able to find a comparison of total energy use between the two buildings). However, compared to a similar arena constructed in 2018 at Bentley University (another Division I hockey school, with over 4,000 undergraduates), the Robson Arena is projected to use about 50% more energy per square foot, and will require over twice the total energy.
While the project is still in development, large portions of the arena have already been constructed. From Yampa field, the new arena towers over the adjacent student housing, and its slick, angular roof sticks out against the view of the mountain. The construction began earlier this year, breaking ground on Feb. 15 and continuing amid significant changes and turmoil at the college.
The campus was largely shut down this past March after spring break, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, plans to return the majority of students to campus for the second block fell apart due to multiple on-campus outbreaks. In the school administration, President Tiefenthaler left in August to become the new CEO of National Geographic. Provost Alan Townsend was named interim president, but then left the school to become dean of the University of Montana’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation. Currently, the role is being filled by Acting Co-Presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore. Amongst these changes and uncertainty, the administration’s Climate Change Task Force (formerly led by Provost Townsend) has also fallen out of function, lacking any reporting structure.
According to Johnson, “I expect we’ll have better guidance on our next steps and focus when a new president joins with strategic priorities for the college and for sustainability.”
Despite these major stresses to the school, the arena’s construction has continued, largely due to the threat of the increased costs that would have been associated with delaying the project. While the school has implemented several precautions at the site, five construction workers working on the Arena contracted the virus during an outbreak in October, forcing the site to briefly shut down. But for now, construction is back up and running, and the arena is set to open October of 2021.