The greening of the library
New Durango Public Library set to open

One of many energy-efficient lamps, which use compact flourescent bulbs, is seen outside the enw Durango Public Library earlier this week. The new facility, which is aiming for gold LEED certification, is set to open next week./Photo by David Halterman

by Anna Thomas

The community’s living room.” That’s how Durango Public Library Director Sherry Taber describes the city’s new library. With its fireplaces, cozy lounge chairs and mountain views, it’s more than just a comfortable place to read a book. It’s downright Masterpiece Theater. Better, even. Because behind that homey, walk-around-in-your-socks, never-want-to-leave feel is another type of comfort: the comfort of knowing that every brick, lightbulb and earth-toned wall is part of a master plan to go green.

The new library, located at the site of the former Mercy Regional Medical Center on the Animas River Trail, is a shining example of the City of Durango’s “green” resolution, adopted in 2004. The resolution, which applies to all new City construction and remodeling, takes into account “the entire life cycle of the project” with the aim of “increasing the comfort, health and safety” of the public while bearing in mind certain environmental responsibilities.

From concept to construction to completion, the library planners cut no corners.

In fact, the library was built to be LEED certified. Also known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED is an accreditation program run by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED certification guarantees that a building, either new or remodeled, meets set standards of green construction. The program is run on a point system, accrued by the implementation of various green features and practices. The more points, the higher the level of certification. The original plan for the library was the “silver” level. But after the lengths to which library planners went to make the building as green as possible, the library is going for the “gold,” literally.

A large part of the drive to make the building as environmentally friendly as possible was the public input process. Several public comment sessions were held prior to the initial design of the library. Not everything that was requested made the cut, however. “We don’t have a wine bar!” Taber laughed.

One of the features of the new building is light. Lots of it. Sunbeams stream in through windows and skylights, illuminating the most remote corners of the bookstacks. Trees, mountains and sky are visible from almost every nook and cranny.

“There are views everywhere!” Taber exclaimed. “You just feel so much a part of the environment.”

The extensive brickwork that literally reaches from the exterior to the interior acts as a sort of passive solar system, absorbing heat from the sun and releasing it slowly into the building. The “bad light,” or the harsh, direct light of a sweltering summer afternoon, is mitigated by awnings and shades.

Taber concedes a fault of the old library was that there was no place to just sit and read. When asked if the new library had more seating, she closes her eyes and clasps her hands together in librarian ecstasy, responding with an emphatic, “Yes, yes, yes!”

The “Quiet Reading Room,” features floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Perins Peak./Photo by David Halterman

More seating was one of the most frequently mentioned requests during the public comment sessions. In response, the new library is virtually blanketed with cushy chairs, couches and benches. The upstairs balcony and floor-level patio overlooking the river also have benches from which to enjoy the sunshine. The Quiet Reading Room, also a common request, has a floor-to-ceiling window facing Perin’s Peak, and the guarantee that once you snuggle into a couch, you won’t be disturbed by typing keys or giggling teens.

In fact, teen-agers have their very own library, complete with computers, diner-style booths, and a neon-illuminated magnetic display board on which to hang artwork, poems and stories.

The concept of green design was begun well before the groundbreaking ceremony in June of 2007. The present site was chosen from upwards of 30 sites around town. Part of the LEED certification lies in the use of a sustainable site, one that allows for open-space and both pedal and peddle-powered transportation. The original plan for the library was an expansion of the old library site, but that soon proved to be untenable. Although centrally located downtown, expansion opportunities were limited, and what little open space there was would have been absorbed by building additions.

The current site was chosen in part for its ease of access via foot and bike travel on the Animas River Trail, thereby reducing pollution from automobiles. For the employees who would rather bike to work but don’t want to spend their shift reapplying deodorant, showers were installed in the staff restrooms.

There is also plenty of room to grow.

“Our old library served for 101½ years,” Taber pointed out. “Try to think a hundred years out. Try to think 10 years out. It’s a future we don’t know.”

Open space was left on the north side of the building, allowing for the library to expand. A raised floor system was built into the design, with energy-saving, under-floor air distribution and 18 inches of extra space to install future utilities.

As for the actual construction process, as many materials as the budget would allow came from within a 500-mile radius. The cement blocks are from Farmington, the bricks from Denver. In addition, a minimum of 50 percent of construction waste was recycled. There is also a high recycled content in the steel and concrete.

All the usual tenets of green building have been addressed. A detention pond was built to catch runoff from the parking lot, treating surface water before entering the river. Indigenous, water-efficient vegetation was used in the landscaping, and low-flow toilets were installed in all restrooms. Motion-detecting lights are present throughout the library’s offices and study rooms, as well as motion-activated faucets and hand-dryers for the bathrooms. Nontoxic, low VOC (volatile organic compound) material was used from floor to ceiling, literally, from the carpet to the paint.

All these measures add up. According to Denver-based Enermodal Engineering, the library’s LEED consultant, the building will see an energy savings of 40 percent over traditional construction methods. The use of native plants means a 50-percent reduction in water used for irrigation, with an equal reduction in interior water use due to low-flow fixtures. That’s a big chunk of tax dollars.

An entire week of grand opening events begins with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. on Mon., Dec. 1. The week’s highlights include a creative writing workshop by Fort Lewis College instructor and former National Geographic editor Will Gray and a reading by John Nichols, author of The Milagro Beanfield War.

As for the – arguably – most exciting feature of the new library: yes, there will be a coffee bar. •