Connacht GAA's centre of energy efficient excellence
By John Harrington
The Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence has a higher profile than ever thanks to the completion last year of the full-pitch air dome at the heart of its campus in Bekan, County Mayo.
Less visible to the naked eye than that impressive structure is the considerable work that Connacht GAA have undertaken to make their Centre of Excellence also live up to its name as far as sustainability and being kind to their local environment is concerned.
This is why they’re one of two regional grounds, along with O’Moore Park in Laois, participating in Phase 1 of the GAA’s new Green Club Project, which helps clubs and grounds in implementing green and sustainable actions.
Connacht GAA’s commitment to this ethos was apparent even before the Centre was officially opened back in 2012, as four acres of the site were planted with ash trees in 2008.
And when the Centre of Excellence was then built it was designed to collect rainwater from its main roof area which could then be stored underground in a 72,000 litre tank.
Making best use of that natural water-supply was a key component of the most recent upgrade of the facilities when Connacht GAA embarked on a project to improve the energy efficiency of their Centre of Excellence.
“We focused on our electrical bills and water usage,” says Kurt Reinhardt, Facilities Manager of the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence.
“We implemented a water meter processing program and used rainwater harvesting to feed into all the toilets. We put in additional sensors to manage the water and then we upgraded the lighting so now all the lighting on site is LED lighting, bar the pitches.
“The dome is fairly economical to run, but it did give us a mental focus to look at energy again and how we'd make it sustainable.
“So we introduced another level of metering on the electrical side of things and I would say we've cut around €30,000 off the running costs of the site in a year between those different programmes.
“We put sensors on all of the public lighting. We're just finishing a platform now that will take in all our electrical, water, and gas and diesel usage into one platform so we can begin to educate the staff here and hopefully bring in some behaviour change in the long-term which will have a further impact.
“We've already made significant financial savings and now we're moving on to a behavioural change aspect of it now with everyone that uses the site from staff to volunteers.”
Bekan was chosen as the site for Connacht Centre of Excellence because it’s located in the geographical heart of the province.
The same determination to be at the heart of their community is evident in the biodiversity project being carried out on the Centre of Excellence campus.
“It helps us extend our community reach and show some leadership in the community,” says Reinhardt.
“We're obviously not a club, but we have many clubs in our area and we want to back up the pride of place and give our local community a connection to the Centre.
“Currently, we've got four secondary schools coming in, playing a part in the biodiversity program. We're planting native trees and shrubs. We've got a lot of help from Teagasc, in particular the Botanical Gardens.
“Margie Phillips is a local woman who works for them and she has offered her time up for that and we're led by their experience and education.
“The transition year pupils from local schools come in once a week. Obviously that has stalled because of lockdown, but they'll be back once it is lifted.
“They're planting native trees and bushes, building bug hotels, and putting up some educational signage and literature about what they're doing.
“We're also putting in bee-hives in March as part of that programme. It's probably a three-year programme before the area matures and it'll do a lot for the site.
“A lot of people will have played football, hurling or camogie here and I think this gives them another extra little interest in the place.
“Certainly for the transition year pupils who have gotten involved, they're really loving it. It's quite like watching a sports team, you can see the same sort of leadership skills emerge and they're all enjoying it. I think some might build careers on the experience.”
Plans are afoot to reduce the Centre of Excellence’s carbon footprint even further, and Reinhardt hopes they can act as mentors for all clubs in the province who wish to become more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable themselves.
“We have planning permission and will hopefully secure a grant for a solar farm,” he says. “That would generate all of our day-time usage of electricity and probably 90 to 100 per cent of our total daily usage in the summer months.
“We hope to become a technology centre for all the clubs that take part in the Green Club Programme.
“So as the clubs look to make improvements in the area of sustainability they came come and visit the Centre and look at how we have done things, whether it's our energy or biodiversity initiatives, and learn from us.
“In the same way we want to be best in class for the teams that come here to train and for the coaching education programmes that we run, we also want to be best in class when it comes to energy, biodiversity, and sustainability.”