Sustainable Parks & Recreation in Phoenix

Sustainable Parks 

Phoenix Parks & Rec Wins Barb King Environmental Award!

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department has moved aggressively to make city parks and recreation facilities more sustainable. What does this mean? It means using capital improvement dollars to invest in energy and water efficiency to save money and preserve water. It means reusing and recycling materials to cut down on waste. It means designing buildings that require fewer chemical cleansers to keep clean. It means finding less toxic substitutes for cleaning and maintenance.

With new technologies to save water and energy, careful design, and thoughtful practices we have made our department and parks greener than ever. What's more, efficient design and new technologies will mean substantial long-run savings in operational costs.

Sustainable Parks 

Images showing recycled and reclaimed material used in Phoenix parks

Though energy and water efficiency is becoming integral to the way we build and operate, we're actually building sustainability from the ground up. When we build or renovate parks or recreation facilities, we're reusing materials and using paints and sealers with fewer harmful fumes called volatile organic compounds. We're also building facilities that we can clean and maintain with fewer harsh cleaners. We used multiple sustainable design and building practices on the recent renovation and construction projects listed below:


Maryvale Pool House Renovation (2009) 

  • Recycled materials used for benching and decking
  • Low-VOC coatings and paints meaning fewer harmful fumes during construction

Civic Space Park (opened fall 2009)

  • Benches and decking made from recycled materials
  • Low VOC coatings and paints, meaning fewer harmful fumes during construction

North Mountain Visitor Center

  • The floors are almost all sealed concrete floors. With no carpeting or tile, we can avoid cleansers and shampoos.

Rio Salado

  • Salvaged debris and recycled materials used throughout.
  • Solar irrigation controllers eliminate the need to run costly electrical wire over long distances. The reduced use of copper wiring also makes the site less susceptible to wire theft and vandalism.

Department-wide Practices
Here's what we've done at our existing parks and facilities throughout the city:

  • Added recycling bins at hiking preserve trail heads, diverting thousands of plastic bottles from the waste stream each month.
  • Partnered with APS to replant 405 mature trees in city parks that were salvaged from an APS Power Line Project. This saved the city of Phoenix approximately $712,000 and kept thousands of pounds of green waste out of city landfills.
  • Replaced cleansers with less-toxic alternatives. In addition to reducing our use of chemical cleansers and lowering VOCs, replacing the cleansers saves us $11,000 annually.
  • Installed synthetic grass athletic fields at two tournament complexes. Synthetic grass fields offer a tournament championship-caliber playing surface without the need for water, fertilizer or mowing. This reduces operation expenses, decreases our use of resources and allows our tournament facilities to compete for amateur sports events that generate millions in economic impact.

Water efficiency in the Parks

Tens of thousands of visitors to our parks expect to find healthy turf for play and trees for shade. Using water efficiently means we keep our trees and turf healthy while preventing leaks and overuse. This not only saves water, it saves money. We've turned to technology for help. Utilizing proven water efficiency technology and management, we've kept our water use the same over the past ten years despite adding hundreds of acres of new turf areas.

We are using capital improvement dollars to replace old irrigation systems with new, more efficient ones. We've also turned our parks into a large laboratory to test the effectiveness of the newest technologies.

Here's a sample of some of the technologies we're using to improve our water efficiency:

We installed a device called the Aquatron, pictured at right, to our irrigation system at Maryvale Baseball Park. The Aquatron uses proprietary technology to energize water as it passes through the pipes before heading out to sprinkler heads. Grass can absorb this treated water more efficiently, which has allowed us to reduce our watering by 30 percent and still maintain high quality turf. The money we've saved with the reduced water allowed us to cover the cost of the unit in just 18 months.

We are installing flow sensors to irrigation systems when we build new parks and renovate systems at existing parks. Flow sensors monitor water pressure and shut down the system when pressure drops because of a leak or clog, potentially saving thousands of gallons of water. These are at work at a number of facilities, including the 20 soccer fields at the city's Reach 11 Sports Complex, where water efficiency is at 90%.

We've installed weather gauges (ET Gage pictured at right) at a number of facilities, including Steele Indian School Park, Maryvale, various golf courses, and Margaret T. Hance Park. The device measures heat and humidity to determine evaporation rates for grass, shrubs and trees. This allows us to reduce watering when high humidity reduces evaporation.

We also use sound everyday maintenance practices to keep our sprinkler systems operating efficiently to ensure our turf is healthy and able to utilize water. The cups you see in the picture to the bottom right are part of a routine test staff conducts to ensure all areas are being watered evenly.

We also maintain our turf so it can utilize water efficiently. We routinely aerate our turf areas to break up compacted ground so water and fertilizer can more quickly reach grass and tree roots.


Energy Efficiency in Phoenix Parks

The Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department is increasingly adding energy efficiency features to new and renovated facilities. The improvements are made with funds approved by voters specifically for improving and building parks and recreation facilities. For decades to come, these one-time investments will save taxpayers thousands of dollars in operational costs while reduce air pollution.

Sunnyslope Community Center
In early 2010, workers completed installation of a solar project that added massive arrays on the roof of both the main center building and the adjoining gymnasium. Each building's panel assembly will generate just under 50 Kw of electricity, enough to power 10 homes. The project cost was split evenly between federal American Recover and Reinvestment Act and Phoenix Parks and Preserve Initiative funds.

Reach 11 Sports Complex
This is our most recent athletic field construction project, and also our biggest. At Phase 2 of the complex, we installed a system called Light Structure Green, which uses fewer fixtures to produce the same amount of light. This will result in yearly energy savings estimated at $42,372.* 

Maryvale Pool House
The award-winning Maryvale Pool House is one of our most popular and sustainable facilities. Some of its most green features include:

  • Solar panels on the top of the main entrance canopy that in the last 11 months have reduced emissions equivalent to reducing carbon footprint by 29,359 pounds.
  • Increased use of natural day lighting and ventilation to save on lighting and cooling
  • Low e-glass to reflect radiant heat.

Civic Space Park
The newest addition to Phoenix's park system, Civic Space Park, located in the heart of Downtown Phoenix, is a centerpiece of the city's and department's efforts to build and operate more sustainability and efficiently. This award-winning park, which just opened in the spring of 2009, employs:

  • Solar panels that generate 74 kilowatts of power -- enough to power 8 to 9 homes -- which offsets much of the park's electrical needs.
  • Tree planting using special "structural" soil, that will allow the trees to grow and stay healthy despite surrounding hardscape areas. When these trees mature, more than 70% of the park will be shaded, which will help offset the urban heat island effect in the downtown area.

Pecos Community Center
Solar panels installed on the top of the gymnasium offset the center's electricity needs, lowering operational costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

Washington Activity Center
We installed sixty solar panels to the recently constructed gymnasium, which are capable of producing 120 KW of electricity.

North Mountain Visitor's Center
The North Mountain Visitor's Center features multiple sustainable design and operational features including:

  • Solar panels on the roof
  • Foam-insulated masonry walls
    Insta-hot water heaters in bathroom sinks. These save electricity by only heating water when it's needed. It also saves water by delivering hot water to faucets instantly, eliminating the need to run the tap.
  • Overhangs over the windows that reduce solar heat gain
    Low E-2 Glass windows.
  • Design that puts most windows on the north and south sides of the building, minimizing direct sunlight

(* Estimates by Musco, the company that developed the system.)