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Sustainability Projects in Atlanta Continue with Water Conservation and Energy Efficiency

October 5, 2016
This article appeared in the October 2016 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
The city of Atlanta’s reservoir will hold 2.4 billion gallons of water.

On Sept. 21, Georgia leaders, Atlanta city officials and staff joined community members to travel 100 feet to the bottom of the former Bellwood Quarry for the ceremonial naming and acti­vation of the massive 400-foot, $11.6 million tunnel boring ma­chine (TBM). This TBM, which was named “Driller Mike” after Atlanta native, rapper and activ­ist Killer Mike, will construct a five-mile tunnel connecting the quarry, the Chattahoochee River and the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant as a part of At­lanta’s $300 million Water Sup­ply Program and first-ever water contingency plan led by Atlan­ta Mayor Kasim Reed. The pro­gram is set to increase Atlanta’s backup water reserve from the current 3-day capacity to 30 to 90 days of water.

In 2006, former GMA President and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Frank­lin led efforts to buy the site of the former quarry from Vulcan Properties and Fulton County for $40 million.
 
Reed shared with attendees the significance of the plan and reservoir. “It will be the largest quarry ever converted into a raw water supply in the United States of America, at 400-feet deep, the tunnel supplying the water will be the deepest tun­nel in our state,” he said. “It will also serve as a testament to the ingenuity of our strategi­cally planned water conserva­tion efforts. The reinvention of this quarry as a reservoir and surrounding park is one of the most creative land reclamation projects going on in the city of Atlanta and certainly in the Southeast.”
 
As the state continues to feel the effects of climate change—evidenced by the Level 1 drought response in September by the Georgia Environmental Protection Di­vision—Reed is confident this investment will protect the 1.2 million people who benefit from the city’s water supply.
 
“Our residents depend on it, our economy depends on it,” he said. “The readily adequate supply of water is vital to businesses continuing to choose Atlanta. Busi­nesses, like people, must have water. One day without water in the city of Atlanta could cost us $100 million— that would be the impact on our business and the jobs that those businesses support.”
 
Reed added, “At the end of the day this reservoir will create jobs, spark economic development and help revi­talize the entire area.”
 
New Stadium Raises The National Bar In Atlanta
Atlanta, much like other cities, spends the majority of its sustainability efforts on water conversation and energy efficiency. One of the most significant energy efficient projects coming to the city is the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Since April 2014, thousands of Georgians, Falcons Foot­ball fanatics, international sports fans and all those inter­ested in the new Mercedes- Benz Stadium have viewed the stadium’s construction web camera. While they’ve been witness to everything from the preparation of the ground floor, installation of steel trusses and building of corridor walls, some may not be aware of the planning and community outreach taking place simultaneously—pri­marily the sustainability en­deavors set forth by Atlanta Falcon’s Owner Arthur Blank, Mercedes-Benz Stadium Gen­eral Manager Scott Jenkins and their planning teams.
 
Artistic rendering of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which includes solar panels at three separate locations.

The city of Atlanta’s Bet­ter Buildings Challenge and the cooperation from city of­ficials and departments has served as great backing, said Jenkins, who has also spent much of his career at the center of “going green” and sports.
 
“Atlanta should be very proud of its teamwork,” said Jenkins. “It gives you an idea of what everyone can do when we work together. And, I think Mercedes-Benz stadium will be a shining star in that private-public partner­ships.”
 
The pinnacle of “sustain­ability success” for Blank, Jenkins and stadium developers is being the first sports facility in the world to achieve a Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification. According to Jenkins, the stadium is well on the way to platinum and has already obtained Gold status through its construction process.
 
“The stadium will be 47 percent more water efficient than a base building and 29 percent more energy effi­cient,” he said.
 
Executives at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium have charged themselves with becoming a “model of healthy environments for healthy bodies” by incorporating a variety of sustainable advancements including 4,000 solar panels, which will be located on the stadium’s sun canopies and in surrounding areas; LED lighting that fills the entire stadium and utilizes 60 percent less lighting than those currently used in the Georgia Dome; 24 electric vehicle charging stations (capable of charging 48 cars at once); organic, Farm-to-Table food options and a Green-Sports 101 that will educate visitors on ways they can play their role in sustainability.
 
The stadium’s stormwater management system is one thing Jenkins is most proud of.
 
“We plan to get all LEED credits available for water,” he said. “We do play a part in protecting the neighborhood from water surges. We are going to collect all of the rainwater that falls on site, feed it into a 680,000 gallon cistern and use that water to make up water for cooling towers and for irrigating the landscaping site.”
 
Additionally, the stadium’s unique retractable “camera lens-like” roof will serve as both a treat to visitors and the environment. It will provide flexibility in hosting a wide variety of events in the stadium, and the roof’s material will also allow translucent light into the stadium, in turn reducing utility consumption.
 
After the demolition of the Georgia Dome (planned for fall 2017), which has served as home to the Atlanta Falcons since 1992, the area will be turned into a greenspace and serve as a gateway from Westside Atlanta to the new stadium, Centennial Olympic Park and the rest of Downtown Atlanta.
 
The $1.5 billion construction project including ultramodern sustainability advancement comes at an upfront, premium cost with a relatively short payback, said Jenkins. “Within a matter of years, the savings in energy and maintenance are going to far exceed the investment.”
 
Striving to Make The “Westside Work”
The stadium’s impact, paired with the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, is built to surpass its walls and reach into the neighboring community. Introduced in May 2014 by Blank, Westside Works is a long-term neighborhood program focused on creating employment opportunities and job training for residents of the Westside community.
 
Since the program’s inception, 440 people have been fully trained and graduated, 360 graduates have been placed in full-time jobs—earning a combined total of $7 million in wages, said Rev. Howard Beckham, CEO of Integrity Community Development Corporation, a community partner of the Westside Works program.
 
Stadium operators and the Atlanta Falcons are also involving fans in the uplift of the Westside. The team joined forces with its official recycling partner, Novelis, in the Recycle for Good campaign. During the first regular season game, 3,000 pounds of aluminum was collected from fans, putting organizers that much closer to their ultimate goal of 3 million cans—enough to build a home through Habitat for Humanity on the Westside.

While uplifting of an entire community may not be as easy, or have as short a turnaround time as the stadium, the planning team is committed because “it’s the right thing to do,” Jenkins said.
 
“It’s a way of being a good neighbor and hopefully doing our part to improve the conditions of the Westside,” he said.
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