If you can’t play by the rules, find a way around them. When Jim Fennell was commissioned by the City of Colorado Springs to design the most sustainable fire station he could, he was faced with an antiquated law that made greywater reuse illegal. Instead of accepting a loss in the category of water recapture, a crucial part of sustainability in the high alpine desert climate, Fennell worked with the local building department, state and county health departments, and the local utility to implement water conservation and reuse at Fire Station 21.

The old standard stemmed from the area’s agricultural past. To prevent farmers from hoarding water for their crops, utilities made it illegal to store water. Instead, it was released to drainage basins so that it could be evenly distributed to the community. For Fennell, a local resident and principal at Fennell Group, maneuvering around this outdated water-use measure meant facing two major hurdles: getting permission from both the building and health departments, and also getting purveyor Colorado Springs Utilities to sign off on greywater use.

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The station’s interior features clerestory windows and thermal-mass masonry walls. Photo: David H. Wolverton

Fennell was in conversation with these parties on how to create a system that would satisfy local codes for approximately two years. Eventually, the health department decided it could label the whole endeavor “experimental,” which allowed it to issue a permit for greywater use on an trial basis. Another requirement of the code was that if the facility did reuse water, it couldn’t come into human contact, so Fennell illustrated how the water would be used as a subsurface drip-irrigation system. Colorado Springs Utilities was equally creative, installing a metering system that allowed the utility to resell water from showers and laundries at a reduced rate, which will account for considerable savings.


Location Colorado Springs, CO
Size 12,000 square feet
Completed 2013
Cost $4 million
Program Fire station with work and living areas
Architect Fennell Group
Client City of Colorado Springs
Certification LEED Platinum (expected)
Photo David H. Wolverton

The final design involves a two-story building based on the look and feel of an “old firehouse” but with modern technology. The project was originally contracted for 2008, but the national recession that hit in 2009 put plans on hold. Fennell says this hiatus was fortuitous. When it was taken off the shelf in 2010, the fire station’s size had been slashed to 12,000 square feet because of economic challenges, yet it needed to be built for the same unit price and still meet LEED Platinum certification. This meant that Fennell had to be more aggressive in lowering up-front costs and increasing efficiencies.

The project was registered under LEED version 2.2 in 2008, so it needed 52 points to reach Platinum. However, the project was new construction on a greenfield site, so it needed nearly every possible point.

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The distinct fabric shade flowing from the top of the fire station’s stair tower blocks 100% of UV sunlight during the summer. Photo: David H. Wolverton

The project achieved the certification and much more. “This was an opportunity to go beyond LEED,” Fennell says, “and create something that was truly sustainable by incorporating passive systems to save costs and reusing greywater for irrigating a community garden, which strengthens the neighborhood.”