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Green Focus
As a leading member of an organization that stresses social responsibility, Scott Gaalaas said it’s a no-brainer for the West Cook YMCA to try and lead by example. Public service and recreation have long been staple components of the YMCA’s portfolio, but in this time of heightened-perhaps urgent-environmental awareness, local ecosystems must also be an area of stewardship.

Architectural planning for the YMCA’s new $20 million facility in Forest Park is slated to begin in earnest over the next month, said Gaalas, and designers will be looking for ways to incorporate greener practices. Solar panels, rain barrels, geothermal heating and permeable paving are all on the wish list and will be evaluated for inclusion in the final plans.

The YMCA hopes to obtain a Silver Rating from the U.S. Green Building Council under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. The first YMCA facility to be certified under the LEED system is located in Michigan. That building obtained the most basic level of recognition in 2006. The West Cook YMCA is shooting for a second-tier certification in a four-tier system.

Gaalaas, the president and CEO of the West Cook YMCA, said he is acutely aware that such recognition would bolster the non-profit’s message of civic responsibility, but the almighty dollar may ultimately hold sway.

“My personal feeling is we’ve got to do everything we can to save our environment, but if the money isn’t there we just can’t do it,” Gaalaas said. “We’ve got to raise $12 million.”

The YMCA is currently housed in a 1950s-era building on South Marion Street in Oak Park, but has signed an agreement to relocate to the west end of Madison Street in Forest Park. Estimates to construct a new 65,000-square foot facility peg that project at $17 million, the bulk of which must be raised through donations and real estate transactions.

Without a firm cost-benefit analysis to using eco-friendly technologies, Gaalaas estimated the YMCA can afford such features so long as the cost doesn’t exceed 5 to 10 percent of the total price tag.

Aside from the intrinsic value to going green, there can be a substantial monetary incentive, according to architect Steve Mihelich, a partner with Williams Architect. Mihelich specializes in green building and is helping the YMCA determine which features might be incorporated into the new facility. Geothermal heating and cooling is one of the more expensive propositions on the market, and entails using the earth’s relatively steady temperature to defray swings in the air temperature. It’s a near certainty though, that the YMCA’s indoor pools in Forest Park will be constructed in the basement level, making it much easier to maintain a steady temperature.

“There’s a narrower temperature range the further you go below grade,” Mihelich said.

Having specialized in the greener side of the building industry for years, Mihelich said there’s been an absolute sea change in the demand for such technology. Still, the upfront costs can be great, but with the demand and the awareness increasing, so too does the affordability.

Storm water management, more efficient faucet heads, and strategically placed windows to maximize radiant heat are among the least costly items on the list, said Mihelich. From there it’s a matter of prioritizing those features that might help the YMCA save money in the long run.