Going for the Green: Three Environmentally Friendly Libraries Illustrate a County's Commitment to Sustainable Design

Article excerpt

The philosophy behind environmentally friendly design sounds like common sense--use resources wisely, recycle, and utilize native materials as much as possible. The complexity is in the implementation. How do you document the process, set priorities, and balance environmental concerns with the needs of patrons, staff, and taxpayers?

When elected officials and management staff in Durham County, North Carolina, made the commitment to go green, they chose to follow the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification process. Three 25,000-square-foot regional libraries illustrate how the county has approached sustainable building design.

"It's all about building the best buildings for our customers and staff while meeting the criteria for certification," explains Priscilla Lewis, manager of library facilities.

LEEDing the way

Established by the U.S. Green Building Council, the LEED Green Building Rating System provides standards for environmentally sustainable construction, evaluating projects within six categories: site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selection, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design. LEED certification is available in four levels--certified, silver, gold, and platinum.

The Durham County Library--which serves more than 1.1 million customers annually with a budget of over $8 million--is moving away from the traditional main library/small branch model to a regional library system. This transition has provided an opportunity to incorporate green building.

Durham County's East Regional Library, which opened in June 2006, received LEED certification at the certified level. The North Regional Library opened in January 2007 and received silver certification. And the South Library, scheduled to open in late 2009, is being built with the goal of attaining gold certification.

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"Durham is an environmentally sensitive community," notes County Manager Michael Ruffin. "With our proximity to the Research Triangle Park, there's a focus on using technology that benefits the environment."

Why follow the LEED approach? At the beginning of this decade, local architect Gail Lindsey, who authored many of the LEED standards, helped to make those guidelines applicable to the Triangle region.

Durham County Commission Chair Ellen Reckhow, a commissioner for 20 years, was a delegate to the Triangle J Regional Council of Governments at that time, and learned about high-performance building design.

"I brought that information to the board," she recalls. "We adopted a policy guideline that we should follow this approach for all new construction."

"Our county is currently undertaking a $1.2-billion, 10-year building plan for schools and county facilities," Ruff in notes. "We're committed to pursuing LEED certification for every project on the drawing board."

A new shade of green

In the 1970s, conservation often meant deprivation and battling nature. As Americans waited in gas lines and set winter thermostats at 65 degrees, energy-saving buildings were built with thick concrete walls and very small windows.

Today's environmentally friendly buildings seek to use natural resources wisely, and to create appealing spaces that enhance the health and comfort of the users by working with the natural environment.

Visitors and staff at Durham County's regional libraries enjoy the use of natural light (daylight brightens 75% of the buildings); views of the attractive, drought-resistant landscaping (important during the state's current drought); and healthier air (buildings are smoke-free, have carpet made of low-emitting, recycled fibers, and are maintained with green cleaning products).

"Ouruserstell me that their families enjoy visiting these new libraries," notes Library Director Skip Auld. …