By Anne Fitten Glenn on 03/05/2012

The new Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center gets its LEED distinction from the ground up: The community center taps geothermal wells for its heating-and-cooling system. That’s just one of several green-building features the city of Asheville applied to the center, located in south-central Asheville at 285 Livingston St.

Named for one of Asheville’s Civil Rights-era leaders, designed by local firm Mathews Architecture and built by H&M Constructors, the center is on track to become the first city-owned-and-built structure to earn Platinum-level LEED certification. If it gets that designation, it will be one of just a few community and recreation centers to do so in the United States.

Architect Jane Mathews, whose firm designed the center, says she was excited about installing a geothermal HVAC system. “It’s a no-brainer to use the earth to heat and cool buildings. And it was a great commitment from the city to let us do so.”

Six geothermal wells were dug to supply the building with heat from the earth. While installation cost more on the front end than traditional HVAC, geothermal systems saves money and energy over time. In winter, the pump pulls heat from the wells into the building. During summer, the pump is reversed so it removes heat from the building and disperses it into the ground. (To learn more about how geothermal systems work, see the article “Go Geothermal” elsewhere in this guide.)

The building also has automatic fresh air sensors that let cool outside air into the building, especially when high occupancy causes the interior temperature to increase.

Mathews says one of her other favorite green features are the opaque skylights in the corridors. It’s difficult to get daylight into hallways and corridors, but these skylights do the trick.

Looking ahead

With the first Southside phase built for $1.8 million, according to Mathews, “It was a limited budget. There are no bells or whistles.” She notes, “It’s important that people know that a space doesn’t have to be glitzy or overly expensive to quality for LEED.”

For example, Mathews mentions that the designers decided not to put in solar hot water because there will be limited hot water usage in the building.

Mathews also touts the two vegetative roofs as having lots of positive environmental impacts. “They provide visual relief, extra insulation and lower the degradation of the roof while needing little to no maintenance,” she says.

The other roof lines are sloped to provide rainwater collection, and that water runs into two ponds that were added to property that filter the runoff from the building and parking lots into Town Branch.

The next construction phase will include a gymnasium, splash park, playground and a section of the Town Branch Greenway. The splash park will consist of multiple water features, such as spraying tunnels and separate areas for toddlers, teens and families. The water will be re-circulated.

The final piece of the project will include space for community-partner offices and meeting spaces.

These other two phases will be constructed as funding becomes available, according to the City.

To date, $2.9 million has been funded by a number of contributors including the Eaton Charitable Fund, Glass Foundation, Janirve Foundation, Junior League of Asheville, the Raise the Roof at the Reid Community Campaign and the City of Asheville. — Anne Fitten Glenn

Other elements include a vegetative or living roof, stormwater management and natural day lighting. During construction, more than 75 percent of all construction waste was diverted from the landfill and recycled. Building materials were sourced locally when possible, and all the wood used was Forest Stewardship Council-certified.

A culture of community
The center was designed with three phases in mind — cultural arts, physical activity and community. The first phase was completed in October 2011, after almost two years of design and construction.

Built near the site of the W.C. Reid Center it replaces, the 7,897-square-foot building features an auditorium, three classrooms, office space, storage and parking. The auditorium, for example, features curtains salvaged from the Reid Center and will soon sport that center’s refurbished theater seats as well.

“That’s one of the reuse parts of the center,” Mathews says. “It’s nice from an historical point of view to have some things from the old building in the new building.”
The first community center built in the city since the Montford Center (1974), Southside’s full name honors Wesley Grant Sr., who founded and was the minister of Asheville’s Worldwide Missionary Baptist Tabernacle Church.

The center’s name also recognizes the Southside community, a large geographic area that once surrounded the site and was a predominantly African American community of businesses, churches and neighborhoods, much of which was demolished during urban renewal.

“Having the center located in the historic Southside neighborhood and dedicated to the great Wesley Grant Sr. demonstrates a commitment to a unified Asheville in which resources are equally allocated and where past inequities are remedied,” says Asheville City Council member Gordon Smith. “The LEED Platinum center is now the crown jewel of our community centers, and I’ll look forward to generations of neighborhood residents using it for the betterment of the entire city.”

Design: Mathews Architecture
Builder: H&M Constructors
Living roof: Living Roofs, Inc

Anne Fitten Glenn is an Asheville-based freelance writer.