Tucson, Arizona

El Rio Community Health Center is at the forefront of healthcare trends, offering quality care for underserved, low-income patients. Since 1970, many have depended on this agency as their primary source of medical care and have come to rely on the distinctively “pro-patient” character of their facilities. El Rio continuously works to exceed industry standards for preventive and chronic patient care.

In 2007, an El Rio Board decision expanded the organization’s definition of “community wellness” to include sustainable and environmentally responsible clinic facilities and work environments. The Board is carrying out this decision by building sustainable clinics that consume fewer local resources such as electric power and potable water, utilize local and recycled building materials, use energy-efficient building design and heating/cooling technologies and plant water-sensitive landscapes.  The Southeast Clinic is their first LEED Silver certified clinic, also the first of its kind in Tucson, Arizona.

El Rio expresses their concern for staff and client welfare within the “fabric” of their buildings. Abundant natural light was introduced through careful placement of windows with respect to the Arizona sun and roof overhangs.  “Solatubes” were used to bring natural light into hallways; clear transom windows at the exam rooms allow this light into the rooms for the benefit of both clients and staff. Arizona facilities managers continuously evaluate their approach to cooling systems for the comfort of building users. The balance between the up-front cost of high-efficiency cooling units and the desire to lower utility fees is ongoing.  El Rio selects its equipment based on experience with unit longevity and ease of maintenance. Mechanical system decisions were carefully coordinated between the design team consultants to ensure that rating of the units, the zoning design and the distribution of heat producing light fixtures result in maximum efficiency. Tucson Electric Power awarded El Rio a grant of 54 photovoltaic panels for the building that will provide nearly 5% of the building’s annual energy cost.  The inverter is now on display in the entrance court so that patrons can see that renewable energy is part of El Rio’s commitment to the health of the community.

The success of El Rio is due in large part to cost-aware decisions made by facilities managers and maintenance staff. El Rio facilities are used intensively and finish materials have been carefully selected to be easy for maintenance staff to clean and sturdy enough to withstand substantial wear and tear.  Colored concrete floors were used to bear up under heavy lobby traffic. Graffiti-proof finishes were provided at public restrooms.  For the Southeast Clinic, staff elected to use high quality, LEED-responsive systems furniture for workstations; these types of furnishings are sturdy, long-lasting and flexible enough for today’s changing work environment.

El Rio is eager to continue to develop new facilities that reinforce their positive presence in the community.  LEED Silver certification has proved to be an exciting avenue available to El Rio, serving as a tangible demonstration of their commitment to the overall health of the community.

Principal Architect Frank Mascia, FAIA, ACHA
Developer Michael R. Wattis, Inc.
Date Completed August 2009
Size of Project 14,000 SF New Construction on 1.3 acres
Construction Cost $2,710,334
Cost/Square Foot $194
Photos by Cindy Hogan