Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 9:54 PM on Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Library building fails to meet environmental expectations

Architects should be asked to help out with costs

by Larry Smith
Point of veiw

There are a variety of green building systems around the nation, but any good and ordinary standard of builder's care will meet all codes and go beyond in seeking to achieve minimum costs for quality construction, maintenance, and operations of structures that will serve their owner's purposes in perpetuity.

In Homer, we have used LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a registered trademark belonging to the U.S. Green Building Council. The Homer Public Library building, which, in its first four years, has failed to meet both economic and environmental expectations, is LEED certified.

The economics part is in high maintenance, retrofitting expenses and fuel use which is averaging more than 11,000 gallons per year of fuel oil compared to the old library building which used 1,600 gallons in the last full year of operation. Adding fuel price increase averages the new building maintenance and fuel have cost $350,000 more than the old one would have. Not the expected or desired result.

The building has sadly failed to meet expectations that carbon emissions would be reduced. According to the city of Homer's Climate Action Plan, greenhouse gas emissions at the old library were 9 metric tons; at the new library, 111 metric tons.

The intentions of supporters were for the very best. They believed using LEED standards would use less, not more and therefore could allow more funding for library programs, and set an example for cleaner, greener ways of building. Money enough to fund two staff positions has been consumed in unanticipated expenses.

This project came about because intelligent, civic-minded library supporters contributed a fraction of funding and convinced the city council it was the right idea. Architects designed, bids came in high. Size was reduced, another million bucks was begged from the legislature, a sales tax increase was voted in — and there you have it. A new library for $7,836.430.03. A million of that for design, management and LEED certification.

Common sense didn't enter into this design. Everybody knows you don't fill a north wall with windows. Don't make high glass boxes on the ends. Don't build cathedral ceilings. Common sense says spend your money on well insulated walls and ceilings. Use more fiberglass and less window glass.

Now what?

When buildings go wrong, ask the designers how they would fix things. Ask to be reimbursed for unprojected expenses. Ask them who else should pay. Architects do more than design. They are responsible for inspecting and approving contractors work.

We had a good local crew, as civic minded as the library friends, who did most of the construction work, and they seem to have done their level best to build this design according to the plans.

I think we should ask the architects to help us out. They were paid a lot. They may say that the U.S. Green Building Council with their licensed LEED program bears some responsibility. They have been asked elsewhere to pay. These folks may agree that they owe us money. If not, the remedy may be in court. For this kind of money the city is obliged to consider all options without delay, statutes of limitations for early stages are starting to kick in.

Larry Smith is a longtime Homer resident and builder.