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Solution Description

The Valatie Free Library in upstate New York serves two small towns and the surrounding region. Rural communities depend on their libraries to provide access to many of the educational and cultural resources and services more readily available in large metropolitan areas. Valatie’s 80 year old library was too small to serve its increasingly diverse constituency. However, the exponential energy costs of a new, larger space—a 19th century barn—would deplete the annual operating budget. Our solution was to design a more sustainable building, with lower energy usage, by retrofitting the historic barn and adding a modern wing that would meet community needs. The library is by definition a democratic institution as its materials are free and available to everyone. The new iBrary will be open to all, fueling young scholars with ideas and inspiring our population with resources. The goal of the ‘ever-green’ Valatie library building project is to attain near Net-Zero energy use and free up operating funds for core library activities and programs. State-of-the-art building materials include insulated wall and solar panels. The shell for the new addition is composed of load-bearing walls integrally joined to the roof system. This building envelope, made of materials and construction techniques developed in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, will also protect against fire, hurricanes and other natural disasters, thus also saving on insurance.

How will it improve our quality of life?

Cities have many community resources; rural libraries serve a greater function. Our goal is to gain a larger building and reduce costs by creating an energy-efficient, lower energy, sustainable facility; dedicating funds to meet the needs of every age group. The new larger library building has separate areas that will serve many groups: adults, children and youth. The hybrid building is iconic for an online innovative hub—iBrary—serving the entire community, fostering communication and cooperation between many library and community patrons and groups. Solar panels on the roof will create enough energy to make the entire building near Net-Zero, with less CO2 creation in our atmosphere. Libraries play a critical role as an interface between community and the world. In a rural area, the library takes on a greater role, one of community cultural, educational, and social hub. The library is an important entrée to education, as children often visit their neighborhood library before they enroll in preschool. Our goal includes a central meeting place for literary events such as author readings and book signings, special interest and computer classes, and other local civic group meetings and events. The success of this project will include an energized landscape of learning and access to information for all age groups while providing a centralized location and multi-use facility that meets multiple community needs, allowing and inviting people to begin or continue their journey with literacy and literature, receiving and exchanging ideas and knowledge in this new information age.

Triple Bottom Line Benefits

Sustainable design will lower operating costs which are key to economic viability of the project, particularly during this economic downturn; sustainable energy solutions have enabled our project to qualify for state government funds. The project will be a catalyst in the revitalization of the village center, where many businesses closed down. Energy efficiency and green building is an innovative approach in a small community not accustomed to sustainable solutions. Tradition is important in a small town. There may be resistance to the concept of ‘form follows function’. Creating a modern addition to a 19th Century retrofitted barn might find resistance from local residents. Heating and cooling with state-of-the-art building materials such as energy-efficient, insulated wall panels that reduce energy requirements, and solar panels that capture free energy from the sun may feel foreign within the rural context of our small village. Since our library building is prominently visible from a popular roadway, these ‘green’ initiatives will publicly demonstrate environmental stewardship, and set an example of sustainability within the community. Currently our village has no public meeting place, and the open, multi-use areas of our library are designed to merge into a large auditorium or hall. The expanded and retrofitted library building will serve distinct groups and a larger share of the population. The location is on a main street where all groups will have access.

Issues, Barriers and Opportunities?

The budget required to initiate this project was much higher than for other projects in our small village. Community ownership of this green energy building will be a vital asset to the project and its legacy; the challenge is to engage and educate the community in the process so they can own it. We are designing a social media campaign to inform and engage our local constituents, garnering their full support. The historic barn building will be transformed into a community center implementing leading sustainable design. Our interactive Media Center will animate various patron areas, creating a cultural exchange hub connecting with other informational hubs. Heating and cooling with state-of-the-art building materials—energy-efficient, insulated wall panels reduce energy requirements; solar panels capture free energy from the sun—may feel foreign within the rural context of our small village. A scalable opportunity is found with the iBrary as an iconic architectural catalyst or symbol, that combines an online innovative hub, and transitional, open, adjustable spaces that may become multi-use areas for diverse groups, addressing various and distinct needs of our community. An opportunity is also found with the ability to generate power from the sun during an emergency, such as an ice storm or other incident, the library’s solar power also has an additional opportunity for ‘net metering’: producing power when the sun shines—sending it into the grid—purchasing power back from the grid when needed; lowering costs.

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