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Colorado College’s new library skipped a LEED certification, with reason

Going green, unofficially

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Colorado College’s new Tutt Library is high-tech, net-zero and carbon-neutral. - BETHANY ALVAREZ
  • Bethany Alvarez
  • Colorado College’s new Tutt Library is high-tech, net-zero and carbon-neutral.
Despite being a beacon of sustainability, Colorado College’s new carbon-neutral, net-zero energy library has opted not to get a third- party certification.

Originally built in 1962, and named for Charles L. Tutt Jr., a former president of The Broadmoor and El Pomar Foundation and CC trustee, Tutt Library has evolved in line with the college’s dedication to having a neutral carbon footprint by 2020. According to CC, the newly renovated and expanded library is powered by “a geothermal energy field on Armstrong Quad, a 115-kilowatt rooftop solar array, a 400-kilowatt offsite solar array, and a 130-kilowatt combined heat and power system.” The latter system uses heat waste from industrial processes. That’s more than enough greening to meet requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council Inc. (GBCI) for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. The distinguished certification provides a third-party verification and a place on the GBCI directory.

There has been a nationwide increase in certifications over the past decade as various municipalities provide incentives for green commercial building, according to the 2012 Touro Law Center’s study, Government “Green” Requirements and “LEEDigation.”

It notes, “Buildings are crucial targets for environmentalists, because they consume large amounts of fossil fuels, like oil and natural gas and coal, which generate carbon dioxide, the most widespread greenhouse gas contributing to global warming.”

Construction started on the $45 million library in May 2016, after about a year of planning. Designed by Pfeiffer Partners Architects, it is 100,000 square feet (about 25,000 square feet larger than the original), increasing the capacity from 20 percent of CC students at once to 50 percent.

CC’s carbon neutral plan goes far beyond former President Barack Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative, a plan to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020. For a building to be net-zero, the total amount of energy used needs to equal to the amount of renewable energy created by the building, or offset in other ways. This building will provide an 8 percent reduction in the campus carbon footprint — an impressive feat considering the library itself compris- es less than 5 percent of the campus. Among a myriad of environmental features, the building uses geothermal temperature regulation. Geothermal fields work by pumping heat into the ground in the summer, and pulling heat from the ground in the winter.

A rain screen also absorbs solar heat, keeping the building cooler and reducing costs. A solar photovoltaic system sends energy back to the grid to offset the building’s use. “The thing that’s most exciting is that this was designed as a whole suite of systems,” says CC Sustainability Director Ian Johnson.

These environmental improvements come at no cost to comfort, however. The new library has major technology upgrades, additional classrooms and a coffee shop to create a community hub in the building. Among the high-tech features: a data visualization lab, a Geospatial Information Systems laboratory, an “experimental classroom equipped with teaching technology,” and “advanced audiovisual and technology-centric systems including wireless accessibility.”

“It’s kind of one-stop shopping for everything you might need to be successful as a student,” says CC’s new library director, JoAnn Jacoby. “That’s really exciting.”

The whole building has been designed to accommodate the college’s block plan (CC students take one intensive course at a time). “There’s a unique rhythm for the block plan; it’s a very intense schedule,” Jacoby says. “By Monday afternoon it seems every seat that could be taken was taken.”

So why not get certified? The campus has certified buildings in the past. But Johnson says that CC wanted to avoid the costs of becoming a LEED building.

“LEED doesn’t guarantee any specific performance. It’s more of a checklist. We followed the checklist, but we were more focused on what we want to get out of this building — the net-zero,” he says.

There are cost benefits to greener buildings: They are more resource-efficient and use less water and electricity. But the certification process can eat into those initial savings. According to a representative from Green Building Council, there is a fee for registration, the cost of the project itself, review fees and certification fees. The amounts depend on the size of the project — typically 10 percent, but ranging from 5-15 percent of the project costs.

And while there can be government incentives for certification, Johnson says that with large-scale construction projects, there’s no guarantee that the project will be completed in a specific time frame, meaning those funds might be gone by the time the project is finished. And there are other complications to incentive programs, he says, which is why CC didn’t pursue them.

“There are incentives available for solar, but when the incentives are taken, the utility owns the rights to the renewable energy credits from the power generated,” Johnson says. “... Because CC needs the renewable energy credits to offset emissions from the co-generation system to make the building net-zero carbon, we did not take the incentives and rather retained our ownership of those credits.”

The library was funded through donations and bonds from the college. LEED certification can be a motivator for supporters, but Johnson says that wasn’t a concern: “In terms of support, having a net-zero building is a lot higher than a LEED certification.”

The new Tutt Library is open, though minor work on the building is ongoing. The official ribbon cutting will be Oct. 14.

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