Contributed By: Lara Caughman, Ruby Falls Corporate Communications Manager
It is hard to believe eight months have already gone by since we opened our new venues at Ruby Falls. Since that beautiful June morning with its brilliant blue sky, just under 340,000 guests have enjoyed the new spots. Today, it feels like the Village Plaza, Blue Heron Overlook, Ticket Atrium, Village Gift Shop and all the amenities they delivered have always been a part of Ruby Falls.
The day we finally welcomed guests to the beautiful new venues was the culmination of a decade of dreaming and planning. What on earth took so long is not an uncommon question when we share the real-life timeline. This was a once in a lifetime project, and we knew we had to get it 100% right. Getting it right included incorporating green building techniques and placing the new venues sensitively on the land to protect natural habitats, maximize the amount of vegetated open space and utilize stormwater management strategies to control the amount of runoff from the site.
In a nutshell, our must-have wish list included new beautiful new venues that would not only blend harmoniously with the historic 1929 Ruby Falls Castle and the incredible natural surroundings but they also needed to be designed and constructed with health, wellbeing, energy efficiency and water conservation in the forefront. The results were worth the wait. What is even more remarkable than what we see is what we can’t necessarily see.
Let’s go on a quick tour of the venues’ green design and construction that were leveraged to give us max operational performance for the long term!
- Rainwater is captured and filtered in giant tanks under the Village Plaza. The collected rain water is used instead of potable water for irrigation at Ruby Falls, saving more than 16,000 gallons of water annually.
- Water conserving plumbing fixtures are installed in all of the new bathrooms and team breakrooms. These fixtures improve indoor water consumption by about 38,287 gallons per year, giving us over 39% water use savings compared to a similar conventional building. That’s the same volume of about 7 typical swimming pools.
- It isn’t a shock to learn that buildings are the single largest consumer of energy in the United States. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), building usage accounts for 50-75% of all electricity produced nationwide. Much of this energy is wasted due to inefficiencies and common human behavior. Special attention to energy performance was prioritized in the design strategies. The building was modeled to protect energy performance based on the ASHRAE 90.1-2007 standard and is expected to be more than 24% more energy efficient compared to conventional construction. The energy-efficient envelope, low-E windows, and LED lighting and controls, efficient HVAC system and building automation system all contributed to this performance.
- To verify the energy-efficient design met our project requirements and was effectively implemented, a third-party commissioning authority was engaged. The commissioning authority reviewed the design and coordinated systems installation and testing with the contractors, verified training of the building operators, and ensured that systems were functioning as designed.
- The refrigerants used in the cooling and refrigeration systems are not CFC-based which negatively impact our ozone.
- Recycling bins are made available for paper, cardboard, glass, aluminum and plastic waste throughout the facility.
- Alternative forms of transportation are encouraged through carpooling of Ruby Falls team members, nearby access to bike paths and electric vehicle charging stations for guests and the team. Public transit route maps and schedules are accessible with stops just over a half-a-mile away from Ruby Falls.
- Materials and resources were tracked closely during design and construction. More than 75% of all construction waste was recycled rather than sent to the landfill. More than 10% of the materials used to construct the building contain recycled content, and more than 20% of materials were manufactured within a 500-mile radius of the building. Recycled content and regionally sourced materials lessen the greenhouse gas emissions associated with manufacturing and transporting materials. Examples of materials that contain recycled content are steel, concrete, insulation, drywall, access flooring, carpet, acoustic ceiling, tile flooring, and countertops. Examples of regional materials include carpeting, drywall, precast concrete, metal roofing, and acoustic ceiling tile.
- According to the EPA, people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, where contaminants can be up to 10 times higher than outdoors. We paid close attention to the quality of building materials to optimize the health of building occupants. Heightened ventilation performance was included in the design of the venues by installing a dedicated outside air system with CO2 sensors to monitor the airflow in densely occupied spaces. Also, during construction indoor air quality management practices were implemented to minimize dust and protect against moisture.
- Low-emitting paints, sealants, and flooring were used to protect the health and well-being of occupants from the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are typically found in these products, which negatively affect respiration. These products were carefully tracked for compliance with strict VOC limits. Interior finishes have been selected for their durability, but also healthy indoor air quality properties. The floor finishes are a mix of low-emitting carpeting and resilient flooring with ceramic tile in the restrooms. Resilient flooring was selected in many spaces for healthy cleaning purposes.
- Ruby Falls strictly prohibits smoking within 25’ from venue entrances.
- Healthy cleaning practices are employed to clean effectively without harmful chemicals.
There you have it! We are over the moon with the outcome from 10 years of dreaming and careful planning. We’re especially proud of the entire project team’s necessary attention and care to create not only a beautiful retreat for our guests but an earth friendly legacy.
We look forward to receiving the results of third-party verification by the US Green Build Council’s LEED certification in the next few months. Our mission to inspire extraordinary connections to nature through wonder and adventure is dependent not just on our ability to protect the precious resources of the Ruby Falls Cave but also the earth’s resources for generations to come.