Costs Will Determine If New Library Meets Green Challenge

Feb 9, 2017

A new Normal Public Library could aim for the green building standards of the Bullit Center in Seattle, WA. The large roof canopy holds enough solar panels to generate more electricity than the building uses.
Credit Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

The Normal Public Library Board and staff, Town of Normal officials, and citizens providing input are all considering a library that could be one of the most environmentally friendly in the nation.  However, a Normal Town  Council member says it all depends on the cost.

If the library is built to the standards set by the Living Building Challenge it would have to meet strict criteria, including net-zero water and power, meaning not using more water than its recycling or gathering or actually generating more power than its using.  An often pointed to example of a Living Building is the Bullit Center in Seattle, WA.

Town of Normal Council Member Kevin McCarthy is the on ad hoc Joint Library Task Force and is a Town Council liaison to the library. During GLT's Sound Ideas he told Mike McCurdy how close the library gets to meeting the challenge depends on the amount of up front money the Town,  library, and ultimately taxpayers, are willing to invest. 

"Whether we get all the way there or not or if some of these things are feasible currently -- self contained water treatment system and all of that -- really depends on the cost. There's an upfront investment that can be costly," said McCarthy. "The great thing is the long term cost of the building is much, much lower.  And so the long term operating cost of a facility like that, that's going to accommodate a large number or public over the life of the building."

The current Normal Public Library at 206 W. College Avenue.
Credit Staff / WGLT

McCarthy agreed that a government entity or municipality would be in a good position to pay off the debt, while reaping the long term benefits of lower operating costs.  McCarthy said the Town and Library could also cherry pick green building systems and perhaps discard more expensive systems with a longer return on investment. 

"There's some ROI math to be done: Ok, this system will not cost too much and is projected to save us this much money; that one seems reasonable. This one costs a lot and takes a much longer time to pay back, maybe we hold off on that system," said McCarthy. "But we're not even close to those kinds of decisions yet." 

There's also discussion about constructing an enduring building, one that could last 100 years or more. Again, McCarthy says it's about up front costs vs long term lower operating costs. 

Town of Normal Councilman Kevin McCarthy serves on the Joint Library Task Force.
Credit Staff / WGLT

"The reality of buildings is that you have to reinvest in some way, shape, or form," said McCarthy. "If you're building a building to last, durability being key, you have to use materials that will survive and those generally cost more money."

He said if you look at buildings that aren't very old and aren't doing very well, he said to examine the materials used. McCarthy said he's a pragmatic small business owner. As such, he likes to invest once.

The location for the new library is near the current Normal City Hall Annex near Linden St. and East Phoenix Ave. Decisions about square footage, which would also strongly influence costs, are months away.  McCarthy stressed the library board is still in a conceptual phase and a new library is years away.  He said the library board will continue to review designs developed by OPN Architects and the Normal Town Council and Library Board will eventually sign off of the final design. 

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