Colorado’s First Zero Energy Outpatient Medical Center

ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference: Innovation Lab

Colorado’s First Zero Energy Outpatient Medical Center – RTA Architects

Presented on November 17, 2023 by Corey Chinn, LEED AP, Mechanical Engineer, Commissioning Manager, Farnsworth Group, Inc., Jessica Massie, IIDA, RA, NCIDQ, NCARB, CHID, Senior Associate, RTA Architects, and Kevin Gould, AIA, Principal Architect, RTA Architects, at ENGAGE 2023 Practice + Design Conference.

During Day 1 Innovation Labs, RTA Architects and Farnsworth Group presented a case study of the Pueblo Community Health Center’s New East Side Clinic. According to the New Buildings Institute (NBI), this project is the first verified Zero Energy outpatient clinic in North America. During the session, a joint presentation was given by RTA’s Kevin Gould and Jessica Massie and Farnsworth Group’s Corey Chinn to exhibit the collaboration and key strategies that led to the success of the project.

The Pueblo Community Health Center provides medical, behavioral health, dental services, and pharmacy services to the poor and underserved population of Pueblo. Determined to be an area of greatest need, Pueblo’s East Side planned to build a replacement facility starting in 2017.

At the project outset, three project pillars were identified: Board Vision, Community Vision, and the Business Case.  

Board Vision

Evidence of climate change’s adverse effects on human health and health systems was presented from the New England Journal of Medicine, stating that substantial increases in morbidity and mortality could be expected as an effect of climate change and that vulnerable populations would be disproportionately affected.

Community Vision

As a city, Pueblo has established a goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy sources by 2035.  They are only the 22nd city in the U.S. to commit to completely renewable energy sources.

Business Case

The Business Case started by setting goals while the evidence and solutions took shape while going through the design process.

The New East Side Clinic was designed as a replacement to the Colorado Clinic building, and it entailed 63,896 SF of space at a cost of $24 million. The original energy target for the project was to have a 50% energy-use reduction over the Colorado Energy Star Benchmarking. Using that target as a launch point, the team then described what it took to reach net zero. The following are the key take aways:

  1. Zero energy doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Sustainable design + energy efficiency + renewable energy = potential for a zero-energy project.
  2. For every step of the design process (i.e. pre-design through construction documents) the entire team should write down the vision and evaluate where they stand.  The constant check-in will help create the downward trajectory of energy use.
  3. The whole is greater than the sum of parts – energy savings comes from every member of the team.
  4. Results equal real owner savings than can be reinvested.

Through the leadership of the design team, discipline-specific performance goals were set and tracked. This integrated approach to reach the energy goals was continuously modeled during the entire process to reach initial energy goals. With this approach beginning early in the project, reaching the energy goal was achieved with time to spare to exceed it.  

Adding to an already energy efficient design, on-site renewable energy sources were then added to achieve zero energy. The two major applications included a photo-voltaic (PV) array and a ground source heat pump. The additional investments exemplified the take-ways list above. Although the ground source heat pump was an expensive initial investment, it eliminated roof top mechanical units which made room for additional PV. As a bonus, it reduced the amount of PV required due to the energy savings. Ultimately, the money saved by the owner in energy cost outweighed the initial investment, making a strong business case for the initial vision.

As a conclusion, the modeling revealed that Zero Energy building design cost 6.25% more than traditional construction, but it improved its ROI from the 13-year baseline down to a 7-year ROI. The result was a New Buildings Institute Zero Energy verification, not certification that has been supported by 12 months of utility bills to verify success.

This project has become a building of pride for the Pueblo community and has generated momentum for future building projects in the community.

Colorado’s First Zero Energy Outpatient Medical Center | Unfound Door
Colorado’s First Zero Energy Outpatient Medical Center | Unfound Door

About the Author

Matt Honegger, AIA

Matt Honegger, AIA, has been practicing architecture for 15+ years in Denver on predominantly large-scale commercial and civic projects including office, convention centers, and airports. As his career evolves, airports have become a primary focus, and he is currently working on the future of air travel as an airport designer and terminal planner.

© AIA Colorado 2024
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