Building Literacy: Public Library Construction

Designing for Sustainability: An Interview with Finegold Alexander Architects

April 30, 2020 Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners Construction Team Season 1 Episode 2
Building Literacy: Public Library Construction
Designing for Sustainability: An Interview with Finegold Alexander Architects
Show Notes Transcript

Continuing our series on sustainability in public library construction, we interview Finegold Alexander Architects’ Ellen Anselone, Rebecca Berry, Josephine Penta, and Beth Pearcy in this episode. Learn how architects approach the integration of sustainable, energy reducing measures in public projects, even when project budgets may be limited or historic structures may be involved. We encourage anyone thinking of undertaking any building project of any scale to take a listen, as sustainability goals must be identified early and remain a priority throughout the process.

In this podcast, companies and firms are and will be featured, sharing their expertise and knowledge with library building project stakeholders in an effort to create a better, more informed experience. In no way does the featuring of these companies or firms on this podcast constitute an endorsement or a promotion of those companies or firms by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. These interviews are meant to serve as an educational resource only.

Andrea Bunker:   0:00
Welcome to Building Literacy: Public Library Construction, a podcast for librarians, Trustees and local officials who are exploring or undertaking a renovation, expansion or new construction project for their library. My name is Andrea Bunker.

Lauren Stara:   0:15
And my name is Lauren Stara, and we are the library building specialists who administer the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, a mult-million dollar grant program run by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, which is the state agency for libraries.

Andrea Bunker:   0:33
While this podcast is Massachusetts-focused, stakeholders in library building projects everywhere may find helpful information within these episodes. From fundraising and advocacy campaigns to sustainability and resilience to the planning, design and construction process, there is something for everyone. If there is a public library building project topic we have not covered, but that is of interest to you, please email me at,

Lauren Stara:   1:02
or me at

Andrea Bunker:   1:07
Welcome to part two of our series on sustainability for public library buildings. This episode focuses on how architecture firms approach the planning, design and implementation of energy efficient measures in public building projects. Joining us today are Ellen Anselone, Rebecca Berry, Beth Pearcy and Josephine Penta from Finegold Alexander Architects, the firm that recently completed the Stoughton Public Library and currently is working on the Jones Library in Amherst, among other library projects throughout the Commonwealth. Welcome to our show. Thank you so much for joining us today to talk about sustainability and your firm and your role in designing energy efficient buildings. For our listeners, I think it would be nice to give a little bit of your background and what your role is in your firm. And Ellen, I didn't know if you wanted to start off.

Ellen Anselone:   1:58
Ellen Anselone. My role in the firm is I am now a principal of the firm and one of the owners, and I have worked on libraries my entire career at the firm, which is about 30 years. 

Josephine Penta:   2:11
So I'm Josephine Penta, and I'm an associate with Finegold Alexander. I'm also a project manager, and I basically oversee the daily coordination and documentation of our internal production and also our consultants and I've  mainly been working on libraries as well within the firm.

Beth Pearcy:   2:30
I am Beth Pearcy, and I'm a project architect at Finegold Alexander, and I'm also a member of the sustainability group at Finegold Alexander.

Rebecca Berry:   2:41
Hi, I'm Rebecca Berry.  Similar to Ellen,I am a principal at the firm as well as an owner, and my, one of my major roles at Finegold Alexander is I serve as the director of sustainability, so I oversee at the kind of broadest level the initiatives of the firm on a project and also on an office-wide basis relative to sustainability.

Andrea Bunker:   3:03
Thank you so much. Can you talk a little bit about your firm's role in designing energy efficient buildings?

Rebecca Berry:   3:10
Certainly. So, one of the interesting aspects of being an architect is that together with the myriad of people that it takes to bring together a building project from the owner, sometimes a separate owner's project manager, consultants, contractors, the community, who are always a very important aspect of any project, there is one entity that sees everything and that their work is about coordinating all of the disparate parts and pieces to make for a successful project. And that is the architect. Because achieving sustainability requires integration of so many moving parts and pieces, the one person who is kind of the ideal entity to look at that is the architect because we do see things holistically, and we work together with all of the different team members to think about all the aspects of the project, from program to scale to the construction timeline to how the construction is administered. We're in a unique position to help carry and shepherd sustainability through from the beginning to the very end of the project and into post occupancy.

Andrea Bunker:   4:26
And can you share a little bit more about the role Finegold Alexander's Sustainability Group plays in the design and construction process?

Beth Pearcy:   4:34
Sure. Finegold Alexander values sustainability, and we try to incorporate it in every project that we produce, but sustainability really needs to be integral to a project. And so we formed the sustainability group and every project is assigned a buddy from the group, and their job is really just to champion the sustainability of the project and support the team in reaching the goals that the client has set forth, and then the goals that we as a firm have established. And then some other stuff the sustainability group does is we provide tools in house to assist groups in making decisions that are sustainable, like material use and embodied carbon, building scale, and massing. And then, lastly, some other things we do is we spearhead initiatives like wellness challenges and initiatives to make our office more energy efficient and more sustainable.

Andrea Bunker:   5:32
Since you have a Sustainability Group, do you involve consultants to meet a project's sustainability goals? Or do you strive to provide mostly in-house services?

Rebecca Berry:   5:42
So this is an interesting question, Andrea, and the answer to it is yes and yes. The in-house sustainability group, as Beth noted, is essentially a resource for all of our project teams with members assigned. So in terms of what I'll refer to as the more architectural decisions about the building, they provide a significant resource to people so that the correct and thoughtful decisions can be made early and often throughout the project. But that being said, there are, as we noted earlier, many different aspects to a sustainable project. And one of the most important, for instance, has to do with systems, which we're gonna talk about as we go through the interesting questions that you put together. So working with consultants, for instance, MEP consultants who design the energy using systems that go into a building is a really important part of our work and coordinating that work, which is among the things that Josephine does as a project manager, that plays a key role in achieving sustainability. So having knowledgeable and thoughtful engineers and sometimes specific sustainability consultants, particularly if a client selects a rating system that they want to adhere to, is a very important aspect to any project.

Andrea Bunker:   7:01
And can you just define what MEP means for our listeners?

Rebecca Berry:   7:05
Absolutely. Apologies. It's mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. To, ah, all of the listeners out there, that means that in your terms, your air conditioning, ventilation system, your lights that will come on and off and your other electrical features, and, of course, your plumbing systems in the building, because water use is an important part of sustainability.

Andrea Bunker:   7:26
And I know that you have been involved in several library projects and other public projects. Do you find that they tend to have a set of sustainability goals already determined or a standard that they want to meet? Or do you work with them to craft those goals or choose a standard?

Ellen Anselone:   7:42
Over the years we're seeing, as I mentioned previously, more and more libraries being interested in sustainability, and some of the towns and groups we deal with do come in with goals, and we, our role then is really to help them achieve their goals. And, more often than not, we're finding is that the libraries don't have a goal or the town doesn't have sustainability goals set up. So we work with the groups to determine what is most important to them in terms of sustainability, and then we craft those goals and draw the whole team in to achieve those specific goals.

Josephine Penta:   8:23
Just to add to that, Ellen, as we were going to reference Jones Library here soon, which is our current library project in the office. The town of Amherst, when we had started this project back in 2016- I believe it was early 2016- there was no talk about LEED or sustainability at that point, but a lot has changed since then, and now the town of Amherst has a climate action plan, and they've got task forces throughout the town that they've separated out. The library has their own task force, and they have a sustainability committee now on board, and they've come back to us now, several years later. Since the project has been on hold, now they're coming back with a new set of goals that they want for us to look at research and hopefully achieve some. So that just shows you within a few years how much has changed. And now we have a new set of goals that we're trying to look at on top of all of, you know, the previous ones. So things have changed a lot in the last several years with this project. 

Andrea Bunker:   9:22
And with that project are you doing energy modelling?

Josephine Penta:   9:25
Yes. So that is one of the items that is on our list to chat about soon. But we are currently doing that. We actually just received a draft report last week, but the final model should be coming in this week. And this was all started within the last couple of months that, you know, that we received information from the sustainability group at the Jones Library. So since probably January,  we started looking into different options that we're gonnabe touching based on here in a little bit.

Andrea Bunker:   9:54
And we've heard from several of our projects and also owner's project managers, and design firms, and commissioning agents that energy modelling seems to have some advantages and is being increasingly requested as part of the design process. Can you elaborate on how this modeling is advantageous for a building project?

Beth Pearcy:   10:15
Yeah, I think the biggest advantage of energy modelling is that it allows you to compare the strategies and determine which strategy will have the biggest impact on your building. And that could translate into long-term utility savings, and so you can see your up front cost and your long term savings and determine what's the best bang for your buck, if you will.

Rebecca Berry:   10:38
I will add to what Beth was saying. So what we see as a firm is twofold, and I should say beyond even what we see. What is happening in the larger universe is that larger projects, for instance, are simply required to do energy modelling by code. As codes have changed to drive ever greater energy efficiency, energy models are now becoming commonplace. Additionally, as Beth said, a big advantage to using this as a tool is that we can determine early on what some of the better strategies are, and also we can help the public entity understand what the long-term cost of their decisions is, because, unlike some groups, people who own libraries are going to own them for a very long time. You know our firm nor anyone else who creates these types of buildings is in this for, you know, 20, 25 years. These are very long lived facilities and the impact they have on the community in terms of energy use and in terms of contributions, for instance, to global climate change is large, so these tools will help libraries make the appropriate decision for them relative to budget in their own long-term climate goals.

Andrea Bunker:   11:56
So in terms of libraries that are seeking some sort of sustainability with their building projects, do you find that there is a difference in sustainable outcomes between projects that create an independent set of goals and projects that choose to design to a standard instead?

Beth Pearcy:   12:15
I would say there are two benefits to electing to pursue a type of standard or certification. The first is that you're less likely to eliminate the sustainable design elements during value engineering when you are seeking a certification. Specifically in the public realm, pursuing certification demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility. And then I think the second is that most standards require extensive commissioning and checks after construction to ensure the building is functioning as it was designed. And I think that that makes a big difference in the long-term operation of the building, but I'll also, say that none of those things require a standard. They can be done without one.

Andrea Bunker:   12:56
And what are the standards you are being asked to pursue by libraries or public projects? And, furthermore, what standards do you recommend if the library or public project does not have one in mind to begin with?

Beth Pearcy:   13:09
So LEED is the most popular standard we're seeing, and it's really good. It looks at sustainability holistically, not just energy efficiency, although energy efficiency is a big part of it. And I think passive house is becoming more popular. It's a standard that is all about energy reduction, and we're seeing a lot more clients pursuing that. And I would also say that the living building challenge is another standard that we're seeing become more popular, and that's about long-term performance of a building and positive environmental impact. And then the other thing we're seeing is targeted EUIs, which is energy use intensity. And that's a metric that is commonly used to measure energy use. But I would say that, you know, every building is different. Every product is different, and your architect can help you determine which standard is best for you. But my recommendation would be that anyone starting a project should determine a target EUI very early. EUI translates into energy reduction, which translates into operational costs. And so Energy Star provides resources for determining realistic EUIs, and I would encourage anyone to look at that.

Andrea Bunker:   14:16
And so far we've been talking about sustainability from a larger perspective, and I'm wondering if we can get down into some details as to what it looks like for a building project. I know you've had several public projects that you've worked on, and I was wondering if you could share some of those that have been successful in attaining their energy goals.

Rebecca Berry:   14:38
Sure. As you note, Andrea, our firm is involved heavily in the public realm. Libraries are a very important part of our practice, and we also have worked on other types of public buildings, including things such as courthouses, facilities for higher education systems, and other civic types of facilities. We have actually just completed and placed into service the largest courthouse in the Commonwealth, and this building was a unique project because it was part of a set of studies for net zero energy. While we were not able to achieve net zero for this building because of site constraints, we are in the midst of a targeted LEED platinum building, which is the highest level of certification that LEED provides. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're looking at using 40% of the energy of a typical courthouse. Courthouses are very challenging. They actually have very high energy use intensities because there are a lot of people in this building, and the operations of it are very energy intensive. That was a new construction building, one of the interesting challenges and Josephine will talk a little bit about this when she talks little bit more about Jones, are historic buildings. When you get into dealing with existing building fabric and envelope, the challenges are different. But we've been very successful with these as well. Just around the sort of almost around the block, in a way, from the Jones Library, we did a project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. A building known as the Old Chapel, which sat right in the heart of campus and is really a student and event center, and this is the building that we actually helped them place on the National Register of Historic Places. We managed to completely restore it and bring a whole new set of program to it while achieving LEED Gold, which involved a significant energy use reduction in the building over 20% below code. And that would be below stretch code. So it's, it's really an excellent example of looking at a historic structure and working with a good set of consultants to determine how to modify the envelope and what strategies to use to drive energy efficiency into the building while at the same time completely maintaining and restoring a historic envelope.

Lauren Stara:   16:59
Rebecca, could you define what you mean by building fabric and building envelope for our listeners?

Rebecca Berry:   17:06
So, architects, when we talk about envelopes, we're not talking about letters, we're talking about the exterior of the building, so your walls, your windows, and your roof are what is known as the building envelope. Think of it as the container in which everything that's inside the building sits. And then, usually, when we talk about historic fabric, we're talking about the important elements of a historic building. So it may be the particular masonry detailing. It may be the fact that the building, for instance at UMass Amherst, had a slate roof. We deal a lot with slate roofs because of the nature of historic buildings here in New England, but also it can come down to even some interior elements. So, for instance, at the UMass Chapel, we pretty much carved out the inside, however we left in place and restored the absolutely beautiful structural wood trusses that made up the main gathering space inside the building. So those wood trusses were obviously important to that historic quote unquote fabric, meaning sort of the character of the building and the elements that make it what it is, as opposed to, you know, things like fluorescent lights that might have been put in in the 1960s, that we could just take out.

Andrea Bunker:   18:16
And those are public projects that you've worked on and completed. Can you share with our listeners some of the public projects you are currently designing with energy efficiency as a priority?

Ellen Anselone:   18:26
We've got a few projects right now currently. We'll speak to Jones Library in a moment. A couple of the other ones are York Justice Center and Lower Basin Barracks, and York Justice Center is currently in the design process. I think they are in design development at this point. They did shoot for zero net originally as an option, but but I don't think they were able to go in that direction. So some of the strategies that they ended up using were passive and active strategies, passive being sun shading devices and a tight building envelope and efficient MEP systems. And Beth, you can chime in if you know anything more about some of the things that they used. But building or orientation was also another strategy that they were able to use. And then, with active strategies, they did end up using ground source heat pumps, and they ended up with an EUI of 28. Is that correct?

Beth Pearcy:   19:21
Yeah, so they ended up with a EUI of 28, and one thing about that is they elected to not go zero net right now, but they're zero net ready. So when alternative energy sources become available, they will be able to go completely zero net. And then the other thing that I'll say about that is that one of their strategies was just to design a super efficient, super tight envelope. And Rebecca spoke to the importance of that envelope design earlier. But I think that's a huge part of energy efficiency is designing an envelope that is super tight, well-insulated without thermal bridgins that really helps them reach their EUI efficiently.

Josephine Penta:   20:03
Ellen, do you want to speak to Lower Basin Barracks?

Ellen Anselone:   20:04
Sure, so Lower Basin Barracks is an interesting project. It's a historic building. It's the former Charles River Locks building. So we have this beautiful, historic structure with some wonderful historic fabric, and we're adding an addition onto this and creating a new home for the Mass State Police. The two challenges on this specifically is the historic nature of the existing building and then the security that the State Police program requires. So we set out on this with an aggressive goal of EUI 21 and a goal of LEED silver, and we're using full building energy modelling to validate our decisions. And I know Beth, you have a few more details on our sustainability approach on this.

Beth Pearcy:   20:54
What is really unique about this project is the energy modelling they're using. They're doing a lot of robust energy modelling so that every decision they make, they're looking at the long term operational costs and how it will affect them and justifying maybe a slightly more expensive initial costs to do that, which is really the advantage of energy modelling.

Ellen Anselone:   21:15
Energy modelling is doing it early and then updating it and keeping it progressing along with your design. I think that's a key piece of that.  

Josephine Penta:   21:23
So Jones library would be the next one. The goals that they came to us with were being net zero, and we definitely said, "Ge gonna look into that." We're looking at net zero or a net zero ready building, just like York Justice Center. Their EUI goal is between 25 and 30. It's also challenging because we do have an original masonry building that we're working with and keeping as much of it as we can. Another goal is using low embodied carbon materials, a whole building life cycle assessment as  well, and, of course, energy modelling, as we mentioned previously, which we'll be getting a little bit more into soon.  

Andrea Bunker:   22:00
And we've heard EUI and numbers mentioned a few times, numbers like 28, 21, 36. Could someone just explain to us what the range is and why those numbers are significant or challenging?

Rebecca Berry:   22:16
The range of EUI is enormous. The reason we say that is because when you're talking about EUI, you can look at the energy use intensity of everything from a single family home to a data center. For instance, data centers are one of the most intensive users of energy, right? You know, you could hear, for instance, people talking about EUIs in the 300s and 400s for laboratory buildings, and that would actually not be such a bad number. However, getting a lab building down into the hundreds, that would really be something to really be proud of. With public buildings, getting numbers down in the twenties is really quite phenomenal. Having numbers three times that level would not have been unusual not long ago. The other sort of interesting about EUI is an evolving standard that's out there and with a certain set of, there's been sort of I'll call it a shift in thinking, say, within the last decade to really, really focusing on the question of how much energy does the building use in particular? Some of the standards that Beth, noted earlier, such as passive house and even living building challenge, while it does have other aspects, they do focus very strongly on driving that number down as low as possible. And that is because the way that we can really move the needle on carbon use and climate change is by really, really focusing on that number.

Beth Pearcy:   23:44
Just to add onto that, according to Energy Star, the median EUI for libraries in the US is 71.6. So that kind of gives you an idea of a building like a library, where you end up if you do nothing and what you can get to.

Andrea Bunker:   23:57
And I know that you had mentioned before that starting off with EUI as part of the process is an important starting place. Can you talk a little bit about what that process entails and if there are other factors involved as you design these energy efficient buildings?

Rebecca Berry:   24:14
From a global perspective, starting with what we call the PEUI. Not to add another letter into the lexicon. That stands for proposed energy use intensity is indeed very important. This is kind of like saying at the beginning, "Are you designing a house or are you designing a school?" And the reason we say that is because this is such an important aspect of it, because getting to that number will affect every single decision you make. If you're building a new building, it will affect the way you orient the building. It will affect the percent of glazing on the building. It will affect the amount of insulation that you specify for the walls and the roof and the floors, because all of those decisions are going to be integral to achieving that energy use intensity of the building. And so it has to be a part of every document that you put at the beginning things that we call the owner's project requirements, the basis of design, the concept. All of them have to have this baked into it or it it will very quickly unravel because you will go down paths that may not be beneficial to achieving that low energy use intensity.

Josephine Penta:   25:27
And some of the things that we're studying beyond EUI at this point with Jones, just to bring it back, I guess, to some basic stuff. We we were just wrapping up the schematic design portion of Jones. And in doing so, we were looking at the design in a different way knowing that they have these goals now. So some of the things that we were looking at was reducing the footprint to try to make it as compactas possible, which we were able to achieve. Another thing we were looking at is how can we utilize the roof, and the best way to, you know, create as much area for solar panels, so we have a saw-tooth groove design on the building. So those are some of the basic things that were still very early on, but we're thinking about more intensely now with these new set of goals. But of course, now, with this next step, we have our MEP engineers looking at a variety of options, job sustainability options and some of the things are geothermal wells and how much area we're gonna need for that and the site capacity. And of course, with that we'll be looking at payback and how many years it will take, and that's something that we'll introduce to our client and the Jones folks, and they'll be able to see how much it's gonna cost up front and what the pay back will be for that. And again, the MEP folks will be looking at the solar panels and roof capacity and how much we can get for the area that we have, and they're also looking at systems. We will be putting all new systems in the library, so this is now going to be all electric so and just different ways of energy conservation. And another thing that we really haven't done much in our office is a carbon analysis, and that's something that now we're starting to look into for the Jones Library as well, which we haven't done yet. But it's an interesting tool, and it's going to become much more commonplace at firms now, at architectural firms. So this is definitely opening up a lot of opportunities in the way of sustainability for and what we do and the order of how we do things in our office. Beth, if you want to add a little bit more time.

Beth Pearcy:   27:28
This is unrelated to Jones, but I do think this may be a good opportunity to talk about the 2030 commitment because Finegold Alexander is signatories to the 2030 agreement, which involves reducing building EUIs against a benchmark by a certain percentage. Each year that percentage increases. So, Jones, for instance, when Jones started, I think the EUI percentage decrease was 60%. And so you know now that it's a couple years later, regardless of their sustainability goals, we were committed to providing that EUI and now that it's a couple years later, we're going to provide an EUI even lower than that. And so I don't know, Rebecca, if you want to add on to that.

Rebecca Berry:   28:09
So the 2030 commitment of death notes is an agreement that architectural firms have entered into, and really what it involves is saying that we will strive to get the energy use of all of our projects down. Obviously we have to work with each client individually to see how far we can go. But as Beth noted, it's ratcheting down every year with the goal of getting to designing nothing but return on energy buildings by 2030. But the moment we are striving to be a 80% reduction and we do that as often and as much as we can and it's wonderful when we get reach outs from folks like the folks in Amherst and Jones Library saying, "We recognize that things have changed the last few years and we want it, we want to help move the needle."

Lauren Stara:   28:55
The 2030 agreement is something that was propounded by the AIA, I understand, and that stands for American Institute of Architects.

Rebecca Berry:   29:06
Yes, that's correct.

Andrea Bunker:   29:07
So with this 2030 goal, as well as the sustainability goals of your clients, do you then approach each project in a similar way? Or do you find that you have to approach each one differently even though you are targeting a certain reduction in energy?

Rebecca Berry:   29:24
So every project is different. Every client is different. The goals of every municipality are different. We work in different states and the numbers vary. But that being said, we do approach every single project with the mindset of let us make this as sustainable as we possibly can within our client's budget, within their timeline, and working in line with their goals. So we bring our own knowledge and our own understanding of the importance of sustainability to every project, so that sort of baseline knowledge and approach comes, but then we work and tailor that to every client.

Andrea Bunker:   30:08
And I know before it was mentioned that there are two different types of strategies that are employed: passive and active, and there were some examples of each given. Can you just tell us a little bit more about the difference between the two?

Beth Pearcy:   30:23
Absolutely. So, a passive strategy is a strategy that takes advantage of the existing conditions to maintain a comfortable space without the use of energy systems. So an example of a passive strategy would be providing natural daylight to reduce the need for lighting. And I think, you know, we touched on building envelope earlier, but the biggest passive strategy that we use is envelope design, because having a super tight, super well insulated envelope reduces the transfer of heat between the inside and the outside, so energy consuming systems have to do less work and therefore consume less energy. And then an active strategy is designing a system to be more efficient, and therefore it does the same amount of work using less energy. And an example to go back to the daylighting example, an active charge would be after we have determined the best way to bring natural light into spaces, we would look at strategies like using daylight sensors to dim the lights closest to the windows, so the building isn't using energy to light a space that already has natural light.

Andrea Bunker:   31:28
So if we look at some of these strategies, there must be some challenges associated with historic buildings and renovations and renovation and expansion projects, which is a pretty significant part of our program. Can you talk about some of those challenges that you face with historic structures?

Rebecca Berry:   31:46
I'll start generally, and then I'll let Josephine way in specifically on some of the issues that Jones, the Jones Library at Amherst. Generally as a firm that works with a lot of historic buildings, the biggest challenge is quite simple. It's it's that envelope that we talked about earlier, because you have a given and you have masonry, you may have slate, you've got a wood structure, and you've probably got single pane windows from 100 years ago. And all of these systems, if you will, are wonderful and beautiful, and they all leak like a sieve. They let a lot of that energy out, right? So you're pumping in heat, and a lot of it's going out the envelope. But the problem is, is that you have to be very selective about about what you do, and the interesting approach to older buildings is just start with the low hanging fruit, to start with air ceiling, to start with tightening it up so that there's not as much air transfer because that's your biggest beast in terms of moving heat in and out of the building, while not over insulating, while not getting the building so tight that that wonderful, historic, masonry can't breathe because if it gets wet and the wetness can't get out of the building, it's a problem. So we work with a lot of specialized consultants when we work with these older structures in historic buildings. That being said, you can absolutely achieve high levels of sustainability with historic buildings. So, Josephine, I'll let you chime in on Jones and how we're working to do that.

Josephine Penta:   33:13
We've mentioned it a couple times and and again with this one it's no different, that's definitely seeming to be the biggest challenge for us thus far. We haven't fully finished our study yet, but it's seeming like that's going to be the biggest challenge because we are trying to keep as much of the original building as possible untouched. And for historic tax credits, etcetera, and and with that, that's going to pose, you know, an issue with adding insulation and that all of the original building is the portion that we're keeping is the masonry, exterior wall masonry construction. The good thing that we did find out is that the original, they did do some work to the original windows, and they did add storm windows to all of the existing original windows in the building. They've added insulation in all of the attic spaces, so that's going to help. But that's definitely seeming to be one of what we think will be the biggest challenges for this. Ellen, I'm not sure if you want to chime in on what you're seeing, too.  

Ellen Anselone:   34:15
It's not much different, I think. Historic buildings. We love them, but it's the balance between keeping the historic fabric and updating the systems and creating a building that is as efficient as we can possibly get. But as Rebecca mentioned earlier, each building is different. So there's different approaches for each. Sometimes we have a building that's on the historic register. Sometimes we have a building just historic in the town loves it and wants to keep everything. So sustainability and working with existing buildings is a unique challenge.

Andrea Bunker:   34:48
So, the structure isn't necessarily the only challenge that you face when trying to build a sustainable building. For libraries, often cost and budget can be a challenge, and I'm wondering if you can speak a little bit to what the cost and budget implications are for prioritizing energy efficiency in a public project.

Ellen Anselone:   35:10
So first and foremost, you can have a sustainable building without having a cost increase. They're just setting your goals and setting your priorities from the get go will help you do that. But, on the other hand, if you're going for something like LEED or passive house, which are, you know, really strict goals, there will be an increase in construction costs, a slight uptick. Passive house ones between 1% of 2%. LEED is similar to that, but in those typically consultant increases in costs, too, but the payback is is you have a much more efficient building and lower energy costs over the long term, which is the prize really for this whole thing. Not only are you getting a more efficient building, you're saving your town's money by having efficient buildings, and we know it's challenge for libraries is the budgets that they're given. They have many things to deal with during, you know, their business year and keeping energy costs down is a huge plus. It's really a win win. We see it. A win win for the town, win win for the library. Overall, there's really quite a savings and not so much an expense.

Andrea Bunker:   36:23
So what you're saying is that a library with limited funding can still achieve some level of sustainable design. Can you talk a little bit more about how that is possible?

Rebecca Berry:   36:34
Absolutely. It doesn't cost anything to make smart decisions, and sustainable design begins with making smart decisions about, for instance, the scale of the building. Build an appropriate amount of space. Build for today's and tomorrow's uses and not yesterday's uses and approaches. And then, once you have a right sized building oriented properly, don't over glaze it. Spend a little bit of money on that insulation, so that in your limited town operational budget, you don't then blow it all on your electricity bill. Put in glazing at the appropriate places so that your patrons can sit in a light-filled space and enjoy printed word without having to turn on a light. Right? So these are all just really super simple decisions that you can make and that we, as a firm strive to make all the time that just don't cost you any money. And the other thing that has been alluded to that we've talked about, too, is think about the future as well in terms of potential changing sustainability goals. So, for instance, at York, which yes, that's a courthouse, and it's probably a bigger budget than most libraries have, but it's a very large building. They couldn't do net zero now, but What they've done is they've set up the building with an all electric system, and many libraries could use an all electric system. And they're putting in conduits and extra capacity so that they can put PVs on the roof eventually and then they can have that building have all passive electricity supplying it.

Andrea Bunker:   38:07
So these are important considerations for our stakeholders. What other essential information do stakeholders and public library projects need to know before embarking on this process?

Josephine Penta:   38:19
One of the biggest takeaways here is for folks not to be apprehensive when they hear the word sustainable. We try to encourage that. The earlier on is better for everyone involved. It just makes things a little bit easier for us, and we were able to get things faster, get information faster and costs faster. But if it doesn't come early on, it's okay, we'll still work through with our clients. We have to work closely with them. We have to choose the right systems for them in order to make it all work properly. Choosing the right system is pretty critical, because if it's not the right system, it might not get used properly or and might not benefit them to how it was originally designed for. So those are some key things that are takeaways for everyone to think about.  

Ellen Anselone:   39:02
I think your point about the approach to the building and sustainable systems we put in are critical that they're user friendly. It sounds like a no brainer, but a lot of the lighting systems, some of the mechanical systems, they can be quite complicated, but our approach is to make them as efficient as possible, but also easy to use because what we find on libraries, the staff changes. And it needs to be something that the next staff person can quickly learn how to use the lighting system, for instance.

Andrea Bunker:   39:37
a lot of our library directors often say we don't know where to begin with this, but we know that our communities want us to have sustainability as part of our public projects. So this is very useful information. Rebecca, for the sake of clarity, could you define the terms PV array and geothermal well?

Rebecca Berry:   39:56
PV is is our shorthand for photovoltaic arrays, which many people probably know what those are, those are solar panels, right? Sort of the layperson's term for that. Those are your silicon based cells that are often mounted on roofs of buildings. Sometimes you'll see that states will now make sort of photovoltaic farms, if you will. You can see some along the edges of the Mass Pike, for instance. Anybody who drives out there can see those that are used for power generation. So ground source. Heat pump slash geothermal wells. The term that really people do try to start to use now is ground source heat pumps. So a heat pump right is a device. Traditionally, people have seen them be quote unquote air source. They sit outside and they look basically like a condenser, and they sort of are. They're like an air conditioner that works in reverse, so they can either pull heat out of the air or they can pull cooling out of the air and push back into the air, vice versa. The trick with heat pumps, particularly in New England climate or other cold climates, is that there is a point at which there is, for instance, simply not enough heat in the air and or the what we call the delta, meaning the difference between the temperature you're trying to achieve and the temperature of the air, or your outside source is so great that they really lose their efficiency. What's nice about the ground? The ground stays at a relatively constant temperature, so ground source heat pumps are big loops through which we push liquid, and we push heat either down into the earth, or we extract heat out of the earth. And because there's that relatively constant temperature, they can operate very efficiently. They are interesting on the installation side because they do involve with the drill rig, you have to test to the earth for what they call conductivity, meaning how much heat can it absorb or like, how much heat can you reject into the earth, if you will. Ellen actually did a project a few years back now that involved a very large, well field up in Lawrence, which was an interesting project. And we are starting to see, obviously a much greater use of ground source heat pumps. A lot of our higher education clients are installing them on their campuses.

Lauren Stara:   41:55
Thank you very much for both of those. I did not know that ground source heat pumps and geothermal wells were the same thing. It's been such a great hour learning so much about what you guys do, and I am learning so much about how the profession has changed.

Andrea Bunker:   42:12
Thank you for listening to our second episode in our series on sustainability. We hope you join us for future episodes on sustainability and all things public library construction.