Today we are going to take you on virtual trip to the town of Athol located in Massachusetts, the USA. This 255-year-old town has a population of just about 11,500 people and it has always been so small and quiet like this. Frankly speaking, Athol is one of the most economically depressed communities in the state. That is why it is all the more surprising that such a small town can boast having the first historic public library renovation that met Platinum LEED certification requirements in the United States of America. And even more amazing is the thing that the community decided to take a short-term loan for the project instead of a longer mortgage. Why? They say that they’d like to pay for the project within just 5 years, since they don’t want to burden their children with the expense of the project they initiated. And the total project cost is $8,570,000, by the way. As you realize, this is a huge accomplishment for the town of Athol. But what was their motivation? Apparently, there many interesting facts about this project, and we’d like to share them with you in our series of three articles dedicated to the Athol Public Library Renovation.
What is LEED?
LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s an absolutely voluntary rating system, which was designed by a non-profit organization – the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) – to evaluate the environmental performance of the buildings. Its final goal is the facilitation of green building practices. According to this rating system all the buildings can earn points for all environmentally-friendly actions taken during their construction and utilization by final consumers. It’s a comprehensive system that takes into account a huge number of factors: how was the environment and habitat protected during the construction, how much recycled content the project has, what was done to reduce the heat island effect and optimize energy performance, is the lighting system energy-saving, what percentage of local resources was engaged in the process, how was construction waste managed and many others. Depending on the number of points the building gets, is can qualify for four levels of LEED certification: certified (40–49 points), silver (50-59 points), gold (60-70 points) and platinum (80 points and above).
What was the point of obtaining the platinum level of LEED certification for the Athol Public Library?
As you see, platinum level of LEED certification is the highest standard and very few projects manage to reach it. Why would such a small town as Athol strive for getting it, especially considering that it’s absolutely voluntary?
Firstly, obtaining an LEED certification is the best way to demonstrate the commitment of the community to limit negative impact on the environment and build a positive environmental image. Secondly, a certificate alone wouldn’t matter if LEED requirements had no particular positive impact on local people. Well, take at least the most obvious advantages – the improvement of indoor air quality, use of natural materials and letting maximum daylight into the building. It’s scientifically proven that such interiors have a great positive impact on people’s labor productivity, their mental health and mood. And finally, by introducing green building sciences and eco-friendly materials, the community got lifetime energy and cost savings, which means efficient investment.
What particular strategies did the building integrate under the LEED certification?
First of all, a great effort was done to remain at the current location. The thing is that historically the Athol Public library is a Carnegie library building of 1918. It was and continues to be masonry, very solidly built. This helped it survive within almost one hundred years in a very good condition, just as many Carnegie libraries did. Inside it was designed quite traditionally for that time: one large room occupied the entire main floor and contained the whole collection of books and accommodation for all the patrons. The space was decorated with two meaningful historic pieces of décor: an antique fireplace mantel that belonged to a famous politician of Athol and a big donated antique clock.
So, when the new public library project was planned, the community and the library trustees examined a few alternative sites, but fortunately in the end it was determined to preserve the town’s historic Carnegie library and re-model the existing building with an addition. The first reason is that Athol is a very old Yankee town. And the locals don’t like to tear anything down. The second reason is a splendid location of the original library – in the heart of the town, next to the Town Hall and the Church, in the cultural, governmental and civic engagement center of Athol. To crown it all, the building remains within a bus-stop that accommodates two bus lines and the public school transportation system. And finally, LEED program primarily encourages redevelopment efforts: it stimulates projects to retain or remodel the existing buildings instead of relocating to other sites and impacting them with construction processes. So now, after a great care was taken by Tappe Architects from Boston to restore the building in the original glory and preserve it for the future, the community can proudly say: “Here it is – the Carnegie Library”.