November 22, 2017

UpClose: Alachua Library Keeps Its Cool | Library by Design, Fall 2015

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In hot climates, air conditioning is a necessity to keep libraries livable for patrons and staff, especially during the summer. Climate warming is only exacerbating that situation. Unfortunately, air conditioning in turn accelerates climate warming. Now, innovative alternative cooling systems are looking to reduce that environmental impact, and the Alachua County Library District (ACLD), Gainesville, FL, is leading by example.

Dan Whitcraft, Alachua’s library facilities administrator, was the one who originally proposed installing CALMAC’s thermal energy storage (TES) system at ACLD’s headquarters. It freezes water at night, so melted-down cold water can cool the air that flows through the 80,000 square foot building during the day.

“It was somewhat serendipitous for us,” Whitcraft told LBD about how he got the idea. “The chiller was budgeted to be replaced this fiscal year. I was reading an article in the journal of a facilities association that I belong to that was written by the CEO of CALMAC. The time to install ice tanks is either during new construction or when you’re replacing an existing chiller, so the timing couldn’t have been any more beneficial for us.”

Whitcraft did some research and discovered the nearest such system was in the St. John’s County schools in St. Augustine, FL, so he contacted the person responsible, “picked his brain,” and discovered the schools were happy with the system. He got in touch with the engineering firm the district had used to make sure it was feasible for the library (largely an issue of cost and regulatory constraints).

From skeptic to salesman

Once the library chose to proceed, it had to talk the local utility company into the idea. “At first we were skeptical,” the Gainesville Sun reported Dan Clark, a large-account rep at Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU), as saying. But now Clark is hoping to bring other big customers to see the library’s installation and consider following Alachua’s lead.

“A number of years ago, people were hesitant to try LED lights,” Clark said in the Sun. “One of the greatest advantages was to tell customers, ‘Go look at them in use at these locations.’ We’re applying that same kind of concept here. The library is leading the way for others.”

So far, GRU has brought one group of about 20 such prospects to the library—a mix of representatives from other government agencies and private businesses—for what Whitcraft describes as “show and tell,” and he says the library plans to host another such showcase toward the end of September, sponsored by a local green building association.

One of the attendees is already convinced: the county is incorporating a thermal energy storage system into the new public defenders’ office it is constructing. At 20,000 square feet, says Whitcraft, it “is right at the cusp of, ‘Is the building big enough to warrant this?’ The county, however, used a local engineering firm, while the library chose a TES specialist.

Saving both kinds of green

The tanks cost the library just under $70,000 to install, but the library should make that back in less than two years. Because the library is shifting much of its energy draw to off-peak hours, when rates are more than two-thirds lower, it should save about $40,000 annually, according to Whitcraft, and he told LBD the tanks have a life span of nearly 50 years.

In addition to saving money, the system is saving energy: in fact, the headquarters’ use of energy has been halved, from about 5,500 kilowatts per day a year ago to about 2,700 kilowatts today.

The system’s chiller is actually smaller than the one it replaced, regaining space on the roof. The ice tanks are located next to the building, and local regulations required them to be screened from view.

Whitcraft is pleased with the system from a functional as well as conservation perspective. The tanks don’t make noise, he says, and the water in the AC is actually about six degrees colder now than it used to be. Overall, he says, “It is so simplistic that you forget it is there.”

Whitcraft says that ACLD director Shaney Livingston is “a big fan” of the project, and the same system may be implemented at another of the system’s 12 locations, the Tower Road Branch, when the library begins to design its expansion after the first of the year.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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