Want action on climate? On Nov. 2, vote “yes”

By Laura Draucker

[Editors’ note: Laura presented these comments at a public forum on the Jones Library expansion and renovation project in March; they are reprinted here with permission, in advance of the Nov. 2 election when we will be asked to affirm Town Council’s vote to approve the project. We have edited the comments lightly. Laura is chair of the Energy and Climate Action Committee but spoke on her own behalf, not for ECAC.]

The combustion of fossil fuels to create energy is the main cause of climate change and pollution that severely impacts human health and our environment. In Massachusetts, a third of our energy-related climate change-causing emissions are due to burning fossil fuels (primarily natural gas) in buildings. In fact, Massachusetts is one of ten states that account for more than 50% of climate emissions from buildings nation-wide (RMI, 2020).  If we are going to be successful in reducing our contributions to climate change, we need to work quickly and efficiently to get fossil fuels out of our buildings. It will not be easy.

So, with all due respect to the author of the often-quoted “the most sustainable building is the one that already exists,” this is not true when the existing building relies on fossil fuel. Our town libraries account for nearly 20% of the natural gas used by our municipal buildings (Amherst 2016 GHG Inventory, Figure 20). This is natural gas that not only emits carbon pollution in our town when used, but that leaks even more potent methane emissions as it is piped across the country. Natural gas extraction has ruined water supplies, landscapes, and lives.

The good news is that right now we have an opportunity to vote “yes” to state funding that will allow us to move the Jones Library away from natural gas. Not only that, but this funding will allow us to create a library more conducive to public use, with better temperature control, healthier air, and improved plumbing. Furthermore, we will be able to create a library that will finally be accessible and functional for a larger portion of our community.  This feels like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the town to tick off so many boxes. 

Just moving away from natural gas is a huge climate win in my book. But in addition to moving from natural gas and significantly reducing the energy use of the Jones Library (even with the larger size), the design for renovation and expansion of this building also considers the climate impacts of the building materials and construction.  This is in recognition of the fact that new materials do have an environmental impact, and we need to make sure the new design has a lower climate footprint than the current library. It will. 

Could this design go further in addressing climate concerns? Sure, and this is true of any design aiming to solve many problems and please as many people as possible. Perhaps the current design could save even more energy with a different approach to day lighting, or maybe some of the operational savings due to a more efficient building could be reserved to fund another climate action in town. These are all things that can be discussed and debated after voting yes and accepting the state funding. Do not throw away this opportunity by letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Each year we continue to operate the Jones Library as-is, we emit more pollution and saddle the future generation of Amherst with a more expensive problem. I feel strongly that voting “no” on this project is a vote against climate action and will negatively impact our town’s ability to meet our climate action goals, going against the needs and desires of many in town.   

6 thoughts on “Want action on climate? On Nov. 2, vote “yes””

  1. It is important to understand that the library fits into the larger capital plan. Out of the four projects now before us, two are eligible for state funding, while the proposed DPW and the So Amherst fire station are strictly local. When we voted to accept the new schools, we also anticipated $500,000 a year savings in operating costs, and that money would have represented $10 million off the cost of a DPW building.

    When Laura mentions the carbon/cost benefit of a state-funded library, the savings is actually an intended benefit to the town. Namely, savings in operational expense is figured into the overall capital plan.

    But more important is the timing. When Town Meeting passed the OPEB article, I had the privilege of voting on a $93 million obligation. They asked use to watch the 2015 Actuarial Report, so I did, three times, with lots of questions that Sandy Pooler helped me with. The critical factor to affording our capital needs over the next 30-50 years is timing. The OPEB obligation, this unfunded obligation, will determine what we can and can’t do and the “timing is critical”.

    So, yes, savings in operational costs from a state-funded (our tax dollars coming back to us) will create savings in operational cost. Those savings, over 30-years, will reduce the cost to us of locally funded buildings. However, the timing is critical and we… are… out… of… time… Don’t believe me? Go ahead, try.

    2015 Actuarial report with Dan Sherman —

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  2. Hi Tom – Thanks for your questions. I count myself as someone who loves the Jones. In fact, hoping to take my kids later on this rainy day.

    The Jones Library page (https://www.joneslibrary.org/buildingproject) has a lot of great resources, and in particular, this presentation from July does a great job of providing a succinct overview of the project: https://www.joneslibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/7210/Jones-Library-Building-Project-Introduction-July-16-2021-PDF. Page 3 runs down some of the challenges with our current space, page 10 compares the sustainability of the project to the existing building, and page 11 highlights how the new project will better meet the needs of our town and excellent library staff.

    I wasn’t sure about this project when I first heard about it – but learning more about the challenges with the current building helped me understand the need. Even then I was still concerned with the sustainability of the project – so when the Library Board voted to form a sustainability committee and I saw the great work they did, I became passionate about the need to support this project. The International Energy Agency (IEA) came out with a new study a few months ago that lays out what we need to do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, which is the absolute latest we can meet that goal to avoid the worst climate impacts ( if you can believe that the events this summer is not already the worst it will get…). Key Milestones include a ban on new fossil fuel boilers by 2025, making all new buildings net-zero ready by 2030, and 50% of existing buildings being net-zero ready by 2040. Globally. This is going to be extremely difficult and yet so important — being able to make our library net-zero ready is not a nice-to-have but a must-have, so it really is a gift that we can do that now at such a low cost to the town. It will set the stage for us to make the same bold changes to other buildings in town.

    Happy to answer more questions if I can, but I recommend reaching out to the library, they are wonderful and really put all of this into perspective.

    ( link to IEA report – key milestones on page 21 – https://iea.blob.core.windows.net/assets/beceb956-0dcf-4d73-89fe-1310e3046d68/NetZeroby2050-ARoadmapfortheGlobalEnergySector_CORR.pdf)
    Laura Draucker

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  3. The article makes a persuasive case for the anticipated impact of reduced natural gas usage, and makes reference to offsetting the negative climate impacts of new materials and of construction activities. Two questions:

    What actual savings per year are anticipated once the building is operational, and what actual new carbon impacts will be produced by the construction work? If those measurements are quantified in the plans, it would be helpful now to see them compared. It will also be helpful to know at outset specifically how these impacts are to be measured and reported.

    The article notes a laudable desire to “create a library that will finally be accessible and functional for a larger portion of our community.” To whom is the current library inaccessible?

    Jones Library is a beloved institution and we want it to be sustained and to be improved as needed, and the availability of state tax funds makes the timing of this plan attractive. Answers to the questions above will add further context to the case. Thank you.

    Tom Porter

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    1. The projected savings for the Library’s total energy costs are 8% (6% if the Board opts to use 100% renewable energy).

      A Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis was conducted and a detailed analysis is included in the plans presented by the architects (see link below). The ‘pay back period’ from a Global Warming Potential (GWP) was calculated to be between 7-8 years. This compared the operational GWP of the existing building versus the GWP of construction + operation + any demolition and debris removal for the renovated and expanded building.

      Links
      Community Chat with the Library Sustainability Committee https://vimeo.com/454784565

      Presentation to Town Council @49:35 begins the discussion of sustainability. https://vimeo.com/515399693

      Architects’ presentation that reviews the sustainability goals. https://www.joneslibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/6380/SchematicSustainability-Study—Updated-Presentation-by-Finegold-Alexander-Architects-October-8-2020-PDF

      Architects’ presentation that includes the Whole Building Life Cycle Analysis
      https://www.joneslibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/6144/Jones-Library-Sustainability-Goals-Schematic-Design-Package—Revised-Aug-30-2020-PDF?bidId=

      The Jones Library is a beloved institution, but the current building is stretched to the limits by the 225,000 visitors that visit each year. The creation of an addition to the library will remove the limitations that exist in the current building and provide vital extra space needed to remove barriers for members of our community who are unable to fully access the library’s services and programs.

      A renovated and expanded building will allow the library to become fully accessible for patrons with mobility issues (the current building is grandfathered and not fully code compliant). With a larger building the library can provide more computers to the 3,000 Amherst residents who do not have access to internet at home. It will help visiting scholars, immigrants, refugees fleeing war, and the families of 32% of our elementary aged students who speak English as a second language build strong connections in our community while they learn and practice English, study for citizenship exams, and meet their neighbors. A larger, more efficiently designed building will ensure that families with young children have a dedicated space that is large enough to accommodate everyone who wants to attend library programs, meet other families, and find a little respite and connection. Increasing the square footage of our current building allows the library to create a dedicated safe space for teenagers, whose suicide rates have increased by 64% in Massachusetts. A space where they will know they are represented, accepted, supported, and nurtured to dream, grow, and thrive.

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      1. We’d all like our municipal buildings and our homes to be net-zero ready ASAP. However, we can’t tear down every building and start anew. There just aren’t enough building materials, landfill acreage and monetary resources.

        World-renowned architect, Carl Elefante coined the phrase “The greenest building is the one that is already built.” Why? He understands the value of current structures for their embodied materials and energy resources used to construct the buildings in the first place. Existing building should be renovated and retrofitted with clean energy systems, not destroyed.

        Elefante states, “Targets established during COP21 in Paris in December 2015 embrace the importance of using existing resources wisely, specifically addressing the adaptation of existing buildings to transform their consumption of energy and developing strategies to reduce impacts from producing materials and constructing buildings.”

        https://www.carlelefante.com/advocacy

        Therefore, it is unfortunate that the Trustees decided to demolish the entire 1993 addition (40% of the current facility) without formally studying how it could be adapted and then expanded over the back garden. The state would have paid for an adaptation/expansion as long as the plan met the library’s building program requirements.

        Fennessey Consultants estimated in June 2020 that the new construction will cost $418 per sq. ft. Therefore, replacing the 1993 addition alone will cost at least $7,440,400. Surely renovating this space would cost significantly less.

        https://www.joneslibrary.org/DocumentCenter/View/6144/Jones-Library-Sustainability-Goals-Schematic-Design-Package—Revised-Aug-30-2020-PDF?bidId= See pp. 56-59

        And let’s remember that the Trustees asked Kuhn-Riddle for a renovation estimate within the current footprint “as is” with merely upgrading current fossil fuel systems. Why didn’t the Trustees ask for the cost of replacing the natural gas system with electric?

        Voters need to decide if this demolition/expansion project is worth the significant funds to save only 8% in electricity costs while dumping over 1660 tons of highly embodied carbon materials into landfills.

        “Never demolish, never remove or replace, always add, transform, and reuse!” Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, winners of the 2021 Pritzker Prize, the most prestigious award in architecture.

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