The Billings Outpost

Library achieves LEED Gold status

EDITOR’S NOTE: This the last of a three-part series on the new library.

By STELLA FONG - For The Outpost

Lights turn on in the space you step into and dim when you move away. You sit happily next to a window where temperatures are perfectly agreeable, not too hot or too cold even with the weather at extremes outside.

As you read your book, the words on the page are easy on your eyes with good clarity and brightness. At the Billings Public Library, a state-of-the-art facility, green building design not only provides for the comfort of the patron, but respects economic and environmental needs.

By satisfying guidelines of saving money, conserving energy, reducing water consumption and improving air quality set by LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the library building has been certified at “extremely strong Gold level,” according to O2 Architect Don Olsen. Olsen and his partner and wife, Kim, have worked closely with Phoenix architect Will Bruder of Will Bruder+PARTNERS to realize the new library building for the city of Billings.

The design of the structure honors the request of an anonymous donor that the project be “architecturally significant.” Once the patron’s wishes were satisfied, Bruder’s team and the Olsens began work on creating a facility to meet the $18 million budget while following LEED guidelines. In the beginning of the project, Olsen says, “We were working on Silver. Then the Kendeda Foundation (an Atlanta-based environmental-sustainability charity) donated monies to take us to Gold.”

Since 2000, 9,600 projects have been LEED certified for New Construction and Major Renovations by the U.S. Green Building Council, the nonprofit organization dedicated to sustainable building design and construction. Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality, Innovation and Design Process and Regional Priority Credits are the project checklist categories for LEED credits.

Facilities receiving recognition in Billings include the MET Transfer Center, Klos Building and the Northern Plains Resource Council, all at LEED Platinum, the CTA Billings Office at LEED Gold, and the First Interstate Bank Operations Center at Silver. In the LEED Certified level are Underriner Honda, GE Operations Building and Corporate Financial Center, One Main Financial and Kohl’s Department Store.

The broad goal for the library when beginning the project included “providing adequate space for a central library, effectively present current information and allow for easy adaption to changing technology.” In 66,000 square feet on two floors, there is ample room for reading, gathering and learning with meeting rooms, children’s areas, computer stations, teen and genealogy areas, Friends of the Library store and a coffee shop. Throughout the new building innovative design has been implemented to adhere to LEED guidelines, which Olsen says, provide “for a better environment for people occupying the building.”

A major feature of the new building is the raised access floor, which provides for an elevated structural floor above a concrete base that creates space for the distribution of mechanical and electrical systems. The design eliminates unsightly wires and unattractive ducting, but more importantly, the layout allows for flexibility for future installations.

At floor level, alterations in a room setup can be made much easier just because of convenient access. For heating and cooling, the space allows for an Underfloor Air Distribution (UFAD) system where conditioned air is introduced to occupied spaces in a room through floor outlets. The floor outlets or “diffusers” are designed to mix the conditioned air with the room air, utilizing the natural principle that hot air rises, carrying heat upwards.

Olsen confirms that the space is “12 inches from the top of the access floor to the concrete floor below, so there is a 10-inch plus or minus void under the access floor.” Air supplied through the floor stratifies into three layers or “zones.” The hot, stale air rises to the topmost level or upper zone. Conditioned air enters at the bottom of the zone or the mixing zone, rapidly combines with the room air to minimize drafts. Air then rises to the occupied zone or first 10 feet of the room where the temperatures are optimal.

Natural light dominates the library space from all sides through two-paned windows reaching 22 feet on the east side and tapering to 16 feet on the west. To soften direct light and to reduce heat and loss gain, stainless steel perforated scrim coverings front the windows on the north and south sides. Sensors detect the room’s brightness and direct lights to adjust their intensity accordingly.

State of the art LEDs or light-emitting diodes brighten in darker areas of the room and dim in brighter areas. LEDs illuminate without the warm-up time that incandescent and fluorescent lights require, which makes for better efficiency and longer lifespan. Then at the bookshelves, lights attached to the top of the shelves will brighten for better clarity when patrons approach and dim after they leave.

To help supplement some of the power needs, solar panels composed of solar cells convert sunshine from the annual average of 200-plus sunny Billings days into electricity. The panels take up about 10 percent of the space on the roof. Energy produced by the photovoltaics is used first before depending on electricity from the city’s power grid.

Recycled and refashioned materials are used throughout the new building. Some are evident to the casual observer while others are not. Olsen points out, “Literally all the materials in the building are monitored for recycled content. Structural steel, steel studs, aluminum curtain wall, ceramic tile, rubber flooring, walk-off mat carpet are just a few materials that have recycled content.”

Materials that obviously have been re-purposed can be found in the Children’s Area in the Story Tower where recycled Wyoming snow fence panels the undulating walls on the interior, and wood split from the Underriner Motors roof joists front the exterior.

In the Children’s Garden, salvaged concrete pieces have been integrated into the pavers. Stone veneer from near Ryegate, concrete masonry veneer made in Three Forks and concrete, asphalt and processed gravels from Billings are found throughout and earned points for Regional Priority Credits.

Sustainability and conservation continue outside with the exterior landscape designed by Jim Foley of Foley Group. According to Foley, the three major goals in creating the landscaping were “to create an attractive ‘green’ garden atmosphere with the essential urban fabric of asphalt and concrete” and secondly, “to utilize large masses of color and texture that replicate the large scale of the native Montana prairie and mountain landscapes.”

The third aim was “to provide shade for both the parking areas and building in order to cool the site during hot summer heat waves.” Trees such as quaking aspens and Austrian pines will reign over shrubs Annabelle hydrangea and Old Gold juniper. Texture, color and scent will be contributed to the gardens by perennials – paprika yarrow, lemon thyme and rose queen salvia.

“Netafim,” the irrigation system that Foley has specified, will provide water directly to the plant’s roots through a series of subsurface emitters. Placing the system underground decreases thievery from Mother Nature through evaporation and wind, and from warm-blooded creatures through vandalism.

In achieving LEED Gold, simple everyday materials have been utilized while working alongside with the natural occurrences and principles from Mother Nature. Innovation and thought transformed daily items into showing and performing in extraordinary ways while respecting and conserving energy and environmental resources.

The new Billings Public Library building has redefined traditional thought on the places we work and learn. Olsen believes, “This will be a wonderful contribution to Billings. Architects traveling to Yellowstone Park will stop and see our new library.”

As a building that provides a framework for implementing practical green building design, it will help educate not only architects, but many others on how we can use much less for much more.


How does LEED work?

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Points and Levels of Certification:

LEED rating systems generally have 100 base points plus six innovation in Design points and four Regional Priority points, for a total of 110 points. Projects achieve certification if they earn points according to the following levels:

Certified: 40-49 points

Silver: 50-59 points

Gold: 60 to 79 points

Platinum: 80+ points

Certification Body:

The Green Building Certification Institute is the third-party administrator of the LEED certification program. GBCI performs the technical reviews and verification of LEED-registered projects to determine if they have met the standards set forth by the LEED rating system.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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