Two energy experts endorse Jones Library renovation project

This first statement is from Todd Holland, an Amherst resident with four decades of construction experience who served on the Jones Library Sustainability Committee.

I want to be sure our new library is a financially responsible investment, a step toward sustainability, and a key to honoring our carbon commitment.

Choosing building materials is one of the largest variables in the carbon equation.  The baseline design used concrete and steel.  But the massive energy inputs required to make and move those materials would have created a huge carbon footprint, one that even a highly efficient building would take decades to erase. 

With wood timber construction, the embodied carbon will be less than one-third of the baseline.  While far-out solutions to climate change imagine massive machines to capture carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground, this project will take advantage of an existing solution: trees.  Trees pull carbon from our atmosphere, and building with wood sequesters that carbon, potentially for centuries. 

I know this because my house and garage were built from timbers salvaged from structures built in the 1800’s.  The carbon in those timbers was pulled from the atmosphere some 200 years ago and is still sequestered today. 

If the library went with the earlier design, it would take 30+ years to offset the embodied carbon with operational savings.  The lifetime carbon savings would be 4,500 metric tons.  That’s not insignificant, but the project before the voters will do far better. 

The proposed Jones Library will save 7,500 metric tons of carbon over its lifetime.  Its impressive energy efficiency will enable its low-carbon construction – and the relatively tiny footprint of demolition – to be offset in just over eight years.  And from then on it will pay a carbon dividend, year after year. 

This second statement is from Sara Draper, director of the R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College, a net-zero energy building.

I am glad so many people in Amherst are thinking critically about building sustainability and about how the town should spend its energy and carbon “budget” to best fulfill our climate goals. The energy efficient, low-carbon Jones Library project is exactly where we should be spending those resources.

As a historic preservationist by training and a sustainable design advocate by trade, I was glad to be a part of the Jones Library Sustainability Committee. My litmus test for the Jones Library project was threefold: Does the proposed design improve the energy efficiency of the building without compromising the historic portion? Do the energy efficiency improvements of the new addition outweigh the carbon “cost” of demolition? And does the design help the Town of Amherst meet its sustainability goals? The answer to all these questions is yes.

By replacing the existing (leaky, inefficient) addition with a new high-performance structure, the overall energy efficiency of the Jones Library will improve by 60 percent. The new Library will have an EUI (Energy Use Intensity, a measure of energy use per square foot) of just 29 kBtu/sf/year, compared to the average 71.6 kBtu/sf/year for libraries nationwide. If we wanted to see comparable energy use improvements in the existing building, we’d need to undertake major work, like covering the existing stone walls with exterior insulation. This would drastically compromise the historic integrity of the original Library building, an outcome no one wants.

While these efficiency improvements are attractive, the Sustainability Committee wanted to make sure that the overall carbon impact of the project was positive — in other words, that the demolition and construction project would save more carbon than it emitted. The Sustainability Report put together by Finegold Alexander Architects shows that the overall carbon impact of the new Library would amount to
10,800 tonnes CO 2 eq over a projected 60-year span; this includes the carbon emissions associated with demolition and construction, and the carbon emitted during building operation (heating, cooling, electricity use, etc.). If left as it is, the current Jones Library will emit 18,300 tonnes CO 2 eq over that same
60 years — without the improvements in service and community space the proposed project will bring.

Critics of the project say that the “greenest” thing is to do nothing, to leave the building as it is. But we can’t do nothing. The Library heating and ventilation systems are at the end of their useful life and need to be replaced. Without substantial energy efficiency work to the current structure, the only feasible option would be to replace them with another gas boiler system, a course of action that directly contradicts the town’s goal to reduce fossil fuel use. We indeed cannot “kick the can down the road.”
The project will reduce the town’s dependence on fossil fuels, lower the energy costs of the Library, and better provide for the needs of all the town’s residents. That in itself would be enough for me, but I am excited that this project can also provide a valuable example of sustainable historic preservation, an essential component of successful climate action over the next 50 years.

At this point in the climate crisis, there is nothing worse than a missed opportunity. We need to reduce our energy use and associated operational carbon NOW. We need to lead the way in showing how to reduce the embodied carbon of our buildings. The Jones Library renovation and expansion project is the way to do that for the Town of Amherst, today.

One thought on “Two energy experts endorse Jones Library renovation project”

  1. This is a terrifically helpful piece. Missing this opportunity, as Sara Draper says, would be awful – environmentally, educationally, financially and in so many other ways. The fact is that it would be several (up to 10) years before another state grant round would be available and in that timeframe construction costs will rise substantially. Yes, this project is expensive, but we will benefit from this expenditure in many tangible ways. An additional environmental benefit will be seen in the “walkability” factor for Jones visitors. More people will come to the library to use it in different ways. Once there, they will go to the bank, post office, shops and restaurants. They will bring their kids and head down to Kendrick Park or the Common. They will meet their friends and neighbors in one of the reading rooms at the Jones or at an event in the new Woodbury room, or in the Special Collections…These efficiency gains in daily lives will mean fewer car trips and reduced miles driven.
    [Editors: Matt Blumenfeld is a 25+-year resident of Amherst. His firm, Financial Development Agency, Inc. has worked on more than 25 library projects throughout the Commonwealth and beyond. FDA is working on the capital campaign for the Jones Library.]

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