Valley library earns gold award for sustainable design

The Mendenhall Valley Public Library has received a “Gold” certification for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council. It’s the first City and Borough of Juneau building to receive such a distinction.


Opened in 2015, the building was designed to save on energy use and operations costs. The USGBC awarded the library the Gold certification earlier this month.

“We were very excited to get the award,” Public Libraries Director Robert Barr said in a Wednesday phone interview with the Empire. “The work you do to receive the award that goes into making your building more sustainable, that is important because it is valuable from a variety of perspectives. It is valuable from an environmental care perspective and from a budget perspective.”

LEED certifications are given on a Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum scale. Only two buildings in Alaska have received platinum certification: the Eielson Visitor Center in Denali National Park, and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks.

Library planners had originally set a goal of receiving Silver certification, but exceeded requirements, CBJ Architect Nathan Coffee wrote in an email to the Empire.

“The toughest part of LEED certification is making ‘no exceptions to the rule’ a reality,” Coffee said. Often times, builders would identify a shortcut in construction but would have to sacrifice points toward the LEED certification, Coffe said.

“We were fortunate on this project that the design team contractor stayed the course and in most cases were able to earn points we had established as goals,” Coffee said.

Meeting the Gold standard requires checking off an extensive list of requirements. The library was built with low volatile organic compound (VOC) materials. Strategically-placed “clerestory” windows near the building’s roof allow it to take advantage of natural light while minimizing heat loss.

A ground source heating system heats the building through a geothermal exchange with earth underneath the library. This allows the library to avoid burning fossil fuels in a traditional oil boiler, saving money on operating costs.

Bike racks, an electric vehicle charging station, locally-sourced building materials, carpool parking spaces and a close proximity to public transportation all helped it earn points toward Gold LEED certification.

In all, Coffee said, USGBC LEED rating system determined the building to be 48 percent more efficient than their baseline building.

“By being more sustainable, we end up spending less money on electricity and using less electricity, and that money then can be saved,” Barr said, to be used on things more directly related to the library’s mission.

“It doesn’t cost that much to operate that building so we can direct that money we save on buying more books,” Barr said.

In 2011, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed an ordinance requiring all buildings and improvements over $5 million to seek basic LEED certification. Glacier Valley, Harborview and Auke Bay elementary schools have all received basic LEED certification.

Seventy-five military buildings in Alaska, most of them housing on the Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, are listed on the USGBC’s website as having gold certification. Only a few non-military buildings in the state are Gold certified, one of them being the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Auke Bay, the only other Gold certified building in Juneau.


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