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Sustainable Architectual Design

The Lancaster City YMCA


Photo by Christopher Deans



The Story Behind The YMCA

The Lancaster City YMCA strives to build strong kids, strong families, and strong communities. Throughout their existence the YMCA has always strived to serve their membership to the best of their abilities while making a positive impact in the community that they are located in. But in late 2006, this task seemed to become more difficult to fulfill. The Lancaster City YMCA was in a location where their building was falling apart right before their eyes. With leaks from their ceilings, problems with their lighting, and heating and cooling troubles, the Lancaster City Y needed a new building in a new location that would enable them to fulfill the task that they strive for.

The YMCA of Lancaster City opened the doors to a newly constructed building on September 23, 2009. The three-story building located on 265 Harrisburg Ave, was built to accommodate the YMCA’s large membership, and was constructed with a “Going Green” initiative. With nearly 10,000 members, the YMCA wanted to construct a building that would satisfy the needs of their membership, but was also built in an environmental friendly way. By using materials such as 90% recycled steel and 98% recycled drywall along with numerous other environmental friendly ideas, tactics, and materials, the YMCA opened a building in 2009 with a LEED Silver certification.

The YMCA serves more than 10,000 neighborhoods nationally. As the nation’s leading nonprofit organization, the Y has been committed to helping people and communities to learn, grow, and thrive. Their contributions are both numerous and interpersonal, from influencing our nation’s culture during times of profound social change to providing individual personal support.  The YMCA recognizes that by nurturing the potential of every child and teen, improving the nation’s health and well-being, and supporting and serving their neighbors in their local community, they help to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to become healthier, more confident, connected and secure.

The Lancaster City YMCA has been a trusted name in the Lancaster Community since 1851. As a city center for community, they are committed to improving the lives of children, individuals and families. Their programs at their two branches in Lancaster City and Lampeter-Strasburg create a sense of belonging, connecting individuals to people and services in the Lancaster community. They strive to see each person reach his or her full potential. The Lancaster City YMCA Association strives to put their core values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility into practice in everything they do.

In late September 2009, the Lancaster City Y moved from its old location, 572 North Queen Street, to its current location 265 Harrisburg Avenue. The actual move was the final step in a major process that took over four years from project approval to grand opening. There weremany hard choices and difficult decisions that had to be made throughout this process, but to their credit, the Y included its membership every step of the way. Because of their willingness to keep their membership involved, the Y was able to create sustainable building that their community was happy to have.      

In early 2004, the Y had a major decision to make. Like previously stated, the condition of their building on North Queen Street was steady declining. The Y had to make the decision whether they would like to renovate their current building in their current location, or build a new building in a new location. Also with this decision, the Y had to find the finance to accommodate either the renovation or the new construction. One thing was certain though; the Y could not stay in the same building where they were located in at the time. The condition of the building at the Queen Street location was unacceptable, and made it difficult for the Y to fulfill the needs of their membership.



Photo By Christopher Deans


There were many variables that had to be considered while making the decision to renovate or build new. One variable was location. The Y had been located at Queen 572 North Queen Street for more than forty years. Many people in the Lancaster Area liked the Y at the Queen Street location. It was a location that was easily accessible by car or public transportation. Also, this location was in walking distance of the downtown Lancaster area. Many of the Y’s membership truly valued the Queen Street location because of it being located in an accessible area, and surrounded by landmarks like Lancaster General Hospital, and its close proximity to the downtown area.

Another variable to consider was finance. Whether the Y decided to renovate or build a new building, either decision was going to be an expensive task. The Y had to consider the financial outlook on both options. Although renovation would be a less expensive option, this was not the determining factor in their decision making process. In most cases the renovation cost is less expensive than the cost to build new, but this price is still a very large figure. Some think with the amount it costs to renovate, you should consider the option of building new. 

For example, let’s say that the city of Lancaster needed upgrade the facilities of its County courthouse. Let’s say that the conditions of the courthouse are steadily declining, and they have made the decision to either renovate or build new. Let’s say that the price to completely renovate the courthouse would cost Lancaster City a total of 16 million dollars. Now let’s say the price to build a new courthouse would cost the city a total of 18 million. Some would argue that since Lancaster City is already paying a huge amount of money to renovate, they should seriously consider building new. But, in these economic times trying to obtain those additional finances to build new can be an unachievable goal. These are just a few of the variables the Y had to consider while making this decision.

Why The Y? 

In early winter of 2005, the YMCA made the decision to build a new building in a new location. After reflecting on all of the options that they could consider, they came to this decision. They executive board of the Y felt that this would be the best option to pursue. They believed that this would be the best option to effectively serve their membership and their surrounding community. Also, they strongly believed that they would be able to obtain the finance that was needed to construct a new building.

Now that they made the decision of building new, the Y had to now make the decision of where they wanted their new building to be located. There were many locations that could be considered. Some of the considered locations where inside the city, while some were on the outskirts of the city limits. Other considered locations had few public transportation outlets close by, while other locations were a block away from the city bus terminal. Public transportation and surrounding area were not the only contributing factors in this decision. The executive board of the Y also talked about legacy of the building. This building will be a building that will be used for a long time to come. The executive members stated that they wanted the building to be located in place where it will stand out from other buildings and in a place where it can be seen as a trademark building of the YMCA and of the Lancaster City Community. The decision was made to locate the new Y at 265 Harrisburg Avenue, right in the heart of Lancaster City.

During this entire process the Y strived for community involvement. It is the Y’s belief that since this building will be built with the purpose of pleasing their community and membership, the membership should have heavy input in the building process. The executive board decided that the construction process would not begin until they gave the community a chance to give their input on what they think the new YMCA of Lancaster City should be.

One of the first steps of the construction process was to get community ideas and opinions of what the public believed the new Y should be.  Cornerstone Design Architects of Lancaster City, Pa were the architects hired to complete the Y. One of their first tasks was to hold community meetings so they could gather community input. 

The Y wanted to know what the community members thought should be included in this building.

What type of facilities would the membership be interested in seeing in the Y?

What would they like to see in the new Y that was not available in the old Y?

Most importantly, the Y wanted the membership to inform them of what they think should be included in this building that will help them effectively serve their community.


Image by Christopher Deans

Conerstone Design Architects held several community meetings during the beginning of the construction process. One theme that became very common was that the Y needed a large exercise facilities area that will be ideal for accommodating large crowds. Although the Y in it’s previous location did have a large building, their exercise facilities area would often be crowdeddue to lack of space and equipment. With a membership of more than 10,000, it was essential that the new Y exercise area be well equipped for handling large crowds.

The Dream Of Building Green

Another theme from the community meetings that became common was that the Y should be built as a sustainable building. Many of the members of the community thought that the Y should be a sustainable building built with a “going green” initiative. Many members of the YMCA’s membership already live with a green initiative, practicing sustainability in their everyday lives. It is their thought that the YMCA that they are a member of should be a sustainable building.

Building the Y as a sustainable building was a thought that was already seriously considered by the executive board of the YMCA. More recently, many buildings that are being built are being created in a sustainable way. Since 2004, the number of sustainable architectural projects currently in construction has nearly doubled. Many academic journals have covered this topic and have offered an explanation for this growing trend (Please see References). Many members in the construction community have begun to realize the benefits and advantages of creating a sustainable building.

Although building sustainable was strongly considered by the executive board of Y, and the community also thought that Y should be sustainable, the Y still had to consider this option. There are many things to consider when building a sustainable building. One thing to consider would be location. Is your project site in a location that will allow you to build a sustainable building? Another thing to consider would be finance. Does your project have the financial capability to construct a sustainable building? These are just a few of the considerations you have to take into thought when you have intention of constructing a sustainable building.

To consider these options and to ultimately make the decision on whether or not to build  a sustainable building, the Y and Cornerstone Design Architects held a charrette meeting.  A charrette is a informational meeting between, the project architects, executive board members, city committee members, foundation board members, and project construction members. The goal of this charrette meeting was to design concepts in an integrated process, and to also gain a better understanding on green buildings and LEED certification.

The initial session in the charrette meeting was primarily an educational and goal setting meeting which included lectures, a core values exercise, and a review of the project in the context of the LEED Green Building Rating System. Recently, most sustainable building projects use the LEED Certification process as a guideline, and for verification of their sustainable building. Throughout the charrette, many topics were discussed and decisions concerning the project were made. By the end of the charrette, the members concluded that a LEED Silver Certification was possible and within the project’s budget.

LEED Certification

LEED is a third-party certification program and has become the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. LEED strives to give building owners and operators the tools they need to have an immediate and measurable impact on their buildings’ performance.

LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas:

  • human and environmental health

  • sustainable site development

  • water savings

  • energy efficiency

  • materials selection

  • indoor environmental quality

LEED certification is used by architects, real estate professionals, facility managers, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, construction managers, lenders and government officials. LEED certification strives to give these professional members of the construction industry the tools to help transform the built environment into sustainability. Recently, LEED certification is becoming used much more commonly nationally and also globally, due to the trend of growing sustainable building projects.

The LEED certification program is based on a rating system. These ratings are called, LEED Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. The rating system for the program has a checklist. For each requirement on the checklist that your project is able to meet, you receive a point for that requirement. The ratings are given based on how many points your project has. To obtain a LEED Certified rating, your project must have 26-32 points. To achieve a LEED Silver rating, your project must have 33-38 points. To achieve a LEED Gold rating, your project must have 39-51 points. Finally, to achieve a LEED Platinum rating, your project must have 52-69 points.

With the decision made to move forward with a LEED Silver certification, the construction process on the new YMCA of Lancaster City could begin. There are many practices throughout the building that had to be created in order for the Y to obtain the LEED Silver certification that they were seeking. Some were actual facilities and objects that would be included in the building, while other practices were things that had to be done before and during the construction process.  These practices were an essential part of the process of the YMCA obtaining their LEED Silver certification. Throughout the next sections I will explain these sustainable practices and help illustrate how the Y obtained their LEED Silver Certification.

Turning Dreams Into Reality

When beginning the process of building a sustainable building, the first step you want to begin with is with the project site. Is the location of your project in a sustainable area? Are there areas close to your project that have high emissions? These are just a few things you must consider. For the Y, the location of their construction site was a good location for this project. 265 Harrisburg Avenue, the location of the project site, is an area that is ideal for a sustainable building.

Phase One

Along with the actual site location, the Y also had to also consider transportation. Transportation of YMCA employees, members, and all other guests of the Y was relevant towards the sustainability process. The goal of a sustainable project is not only to decrease emissions and energy consumption throughout the building, but also in the environment as well.  It was essential that the Y be in a location that gave all its visitors alternate means of transportation that decrease emissions into the environment.

The Y in its current address is an excellent location to allow its employees, members, and all other visitors, alternate means of transportation. The location is accessible by multiple outlets of City public transportation. This allows some to catch the bus instead of driving their own personal vehicle. This in turn, allows them to still visit the Y, but we have one less car on the road releasing emissions into the atmosphere.

Also, the Y has several bike storage units and changing rooms. This encourages some who visit to use their bike for transportation to and from the Y.  The Y encourages physical activity and strongly suggests biking for their closer members. By having both the bike storage units and the changing rooms, the Y is given their visitors an alternate means of transportation, one in which the visitor does not have to rely high-emitting vehicles for to get them to and from. 

Phase Two

Construction of the building plays a huge part in the LEED Certification process. During construction of the Lancaster City Y, at least twenty percent of the materials used where recycled content. This recycled content was material that was recycled post-consumer. In other words, the Y was created with materials that in some way have been used by consumers. Some of these materials include recycled steel, and recycled drywall.

Using recycled materials is a crucial piece of the sustainability process. When most think of recycling, they think of the glass, paper, and plastic that they recycle during their everyday lives.

Recycling in the construction process ultimately has different materials, but it is pretty much the same concept. Constructions companies recycled certain materials that they do not use during a project and other companies salvage that material. Recycled materials must pass inspection before use, after which it is then used for different projects.

Phase Three

Recycled materials decrease the need for certain new materials during a construction project. This is vital because this in-turn helps to stop waste and overproduction. These recycled materials help us conserve while still giving us the ability to construct a brand new building. With the Y being constructed with 90% recycled steel, and 98% recycled drywall, this building is a perfect example of conserving and sustainability.

But not only is using recycled materials key, it is also important to recycle materials that are not going to be used for the project. During the construction of this project, the Y was able to divert 75% of their construction waste from disposal. This creates two advantages in the interest of sustainability. First, the Y is recycling materials that can be used for different projects which decrease the need for new materials helping to control overproduction. Secondly, these materials are not being sent to a dumpsite, where they are incinerated and emissions are released into the atmosphere.  

The location of where you get your materials is vital as well. The Y gathered more than 20% of all their materials that were used throughout the project locally. Gathering your materials needed for construction locally eliminates the need of long distance material shipping. In most cases, materials for project like this are either transported by truck or by train.

Each method of transportation requires vehicles that have high emissions. By gathering these materials locally this decreases this need for these transportation services on a long distance scale. By doing so this decreases the emissions released into the atmosphere by eliminating the need of truck or train.

Water Effciency

Another major portion of the LEED Certification program is water efficiency. Many of our natural water sources are being depleted by contamination, over-irrigation, and overconsumption. It is essential that we take steps to conserve our natural water resources. The LEED certification program provides an outline of how to conserve water in sustainable buildings. The Lancaster City YMCA is a model to the LEED Certification of how to conserve water in a sustainable building.  By using some sustainable practices throughout the building, the Y is able to consume 20% less water than other buildings its size.  

One example of water use reduction was in the landscape of the building. The Y designed the landscape of the building to be water efficient consuming 50% less water than other building with landscapes its size. Their landscape requires much less water, and still has the great presentation of an outstanding landscape. It was designed to rely heavily on natural rainfall for its water needs, decreasing the need for over-consuming water sprinkler systems, or other things to that nature.   

The Y also designed their restrooms in a way that reduces their water consumption. In the men restrooms the Y is equipped with free flow urinals. These urinals are different than regular types that flush a gallon or more of water during each cycle. These urinals flush a very minimum amount of water during each cycle allowing the Y to conserve on each flush. Also, in both the men and women bathrooms the Y are equipped with automated faucets. These faucets have censors that recognize when someone’s hand if near and then run the water supply. These faucets conserve more than a ½ gallon of water each time someone washes their hands. That adds up to a lot of water being conserved each time someone uses their faucet.   

One of the most astounding things about the Y is that it was created with low-emitting materials. Starting with the larger materials like carpet supplies, to the smaller materials like adhesives and sealant. The fact that the Y was created with these materials is important because these materials have a huge impact on the sustainability process. These materials, although they are used primary on the inside of the building, could potentially still have high emissions. The emissions released from these materials could escape the building through doors, or other ventilation systems and be released into the atmosphere. Even worst, these emissions can be released and trapped within the building forcing the constituents of the Y to breathe those harmful emissions in.

Energy Conservation

Energy Conservation is also a major focus of the LEED Certification program. Many buildings are designed in ways that enable them to drastically overuse energy supplies. The YMCA of Lancaster City has several sustainable practices throughout the building that allows them to conserve energy. This is beneficial in two main ways. First, by conserving energy this saves natural resources that are used to create energy to supply the building. Secondly, it financially benefits the Y by allowing them to save money by decreasing their need to purchase energy.  

The Y was constructed with heat resistant roofs. These roofs deflect sunlight from the top of the building and do not allow beams of sunlight to shine down of the roof of the Y. Especially in large buildings, when sunlight beams on a building roof, the heat from the beams of light are transferred from the sun to the roof. Then the same heat that is absorbed by the roof is then released with-in the building. This in-turn increases the temperature with-in the building. This process is intensified especially in the summer when the sun is in the sky for more than 12 hours each day. The Y must then use their air conditioning systems to cool the building, which increases their energy consumption.


Image By Christopher Deans

So it could be understood why this process is detrimental in the summer, but some would argue this would be something you would like in the winter. The winter months are cold in the Lancaster Area, and this seems as though this would be something you could have that could help you decrease your heating need. This might be true for some homes, but not for the Y. The YMCA is primarily an exercise facility. The building must remain at a comfortable temperature at all times during both seasons for the membership who are engaging in physical activity. The Y must have complete control of the temperature in the building.  The Y cannot have drastic changes in temperature at anytime due to the type of facility that they are.  Heat resistant roofs are beneficial to the Y during all seasons.

The YMCA’s master climate control system is also an effective sustainable practice. Like previously stated, the Y must keep the temperature in the building comfortable at all times. Because of this, the Y has their climate control for the entire building, excluding the pool area, located on one panel. This panel is set at a comfortable temperature and is controlled only by Y staff. This takes way the circumstance of individuals over-consuming energy by frequently changing the temperature in certain rooms.

Sustainable Practices

Two of the most innovative sustainable practices that the YMCA features have to do with the actual design of the building. The Y has very large windows throughout the entire building. In all main sections of the Y, the exercise facility, the pool, and also the gym, there are no less than six large windows in each location.  The Y was also designed in a way that allows it to manipulate natural sunlight into a sustainable practice.  The building either utilizes or deflects natural sunlight according to the season and helps the Y conserve energy.


Image By Christopher Deans

Like previously stated, the Y has many large windows throughout the building. By designing a building that has many large windows, the Y has a created a building with a very innovative, but very simple sustainable practice.  These windows allow the Y to conserve a drastic amount of energy by helping to supplement and decrease their lighting and heating need. In addition to helping the Y conserve, this also helps them financially by decreasing some of their need to purchase energy for their lighting and heating.

These windows literally illuminate the entire YMCA building during the daytime. Even on cloudy days, the daylight provided by the windows provides more than sufficient lighting for the entire building. This fact is not only true in the larger rooms, but also in the smaller rooms as well. The daylight that shines bright in the larger rooms, provide adequate lighting for small interior rooms as well. Because of this, the Y does not have a necessity for an abundance of light throughout their building. Also, the lighting that Y is providing can remain off throughout the day. They need only to run the maximum capacity of their lighting in the evening when the sun is setting from the sky. This allows them to conserve energy by decreasing their lighting need.     
In addition, these windows also allow the Y to supplement and decrease their heating need. Previously we talked about how natural sunlight when focused on the roof of a building can transfer heat through the roof and in-turn throughout the entire building. This fact remains true for sunlight through a window as well. By having large windows, this allows heat that is being transferred through sunlight to be transferred into the building as well. This action increases the temperature in the building, and helps supplement the heating need in the building. This is especially vital in the winter months, where temperatures can be extremely cold.   

Not only are the large windows throughout the Y an effective and sustainable practice, the actual design of the building is an innovative and sustainable practice as well. This building was designed to either absorb or reflect sunlight depending on the season. This building was designed to reflect rays from the sun in the summer time, and use the sun for heat in the winter.

The process of reflecting and absorbing sunlight works like this. In the summer seasons the sun is at its higher point in the sky. The Y was designed in a way that the building would actually deflect the sun’s rays from penetrating the building. The Y was built with an angled roof, and an angled top exterior of the building that actually shields the building from the gleaming sunlight. This design does not allow the rays from the sun to penetrate the building and in-turn does not allow the transfer of heat from the sun to raise the temperature in the building.

In the winter seasons the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. The Y was designed to do the complete opposite with rays from the sun in the winter months than in the summer months. Instead of deflecting the sunlight, the Y was designed at an angle that actually absorbs the sun. The rays of sunlight are transferred through the building, right below the heat resistant roofs, which allows heat from the sun to be transferred throughout the building.

Designing the building in this way was a very sustainable practice. This allows the building to naturally keep a cooler building in the winter, and naturally keep a warmer building in the summer. Also, the Y is able to conserve an abundance of energy due to this sustainable design and practice. By not allowing heat from the summer sun to enter the building, the Y can conserve more energy because it takes less for them to keep the building cooler in the summer. Same concept is true for the winter, by allowing heat from the winter sun to enter the building this helps them keep the building warmer in the winter. 

The Y's Magnificent Community Appreciation  

Rahiem Shields, a Lancaster City community resident, and a member at the Y stated the Y has inspired him. He said before hand, he knew very little about conservation and the going green initiative, he didn’t even recycle. But once he heard that the Y was built in a way that conserved natural resources, materials, and energy it has motivated him to make the change. He stated “that if my local Y can help conserve, and help save the environment, I mean hey, so can I.”

The YMCA is one of the new sustainable projects in the Lancaster Area and the Lancaster community is extremely happy to have it. The community takes pride in this newly constructed building. They take pride in knowing that this building was built sustainable, and the Y is taking the initiative to conserve and make a difference in the community.

The Y has existed in the Lancaster City community for more than 150 years. Throughout that entire time the Y has strived to make a difference in the community. They have been an example and a role model for many in the Lancaster Area, and have helped many people progress and develop. This continues to remain true, with their newly constructed building. They have shown that we all can make a difference in the sustainable process. They have shown if we all take the initiative, we can step a huge step towards the conservation of our planet.



This site was created by Christopher Deans at Millersville University of Pennsylvania

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