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Green experience: County's newest branch built for sustainability

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

DACULA -- Even before readers enter the county's newest library, there are hieroglyphics on the window. Learning is etched in the very walls of the building, the first green library of the community.

So many of the features -- from the carpet to the bricks to the seat belts used for chair backs -- are made with recycled material.

The lighting, heating and air have been meticulously planned, from the very orientation of the structure, and art elements emboss the architecture, proffering reflections on the earth and language burned into panes of glass on a wall of windows.

"We really hope people can come in here and experience the building as well as experience the books," said Eamon Shelton, capital projects manager for the Gwinnett County Public Library.

With its 15th branch -- a $7.4 million structure that provided controversy six months before it opened because of a proposal to close the Dacula branch in favor of its new neighbor -- library officials have created lessons even in the parking lot.

There, hybrid-only parking spots are marked on pervious surfaces, where rainwater is expected to soak into the pavement instead of rushing over it.

To the typical Gwinnettian, spoiled by decades of lush landscaping at county facilities, the grass-less site at the entrance to Duncan Creek Park may be a shock, library Director Nancy Stanbery-Kellam said. But the native plants and natural landscaping are all in keeping with the green movement. After all, watering won't be necessary and energy won't be expended in mowing the lawn.

"Our community has had a certain expectation for county buildings, but if you embrace it, sustainability is part of the package," she said.

Sustainability is the key word in the design, where architect Chad Smith was careful to align the building with the entrance to the east and solar screens filtering light away from the few south-facing walls.

The alignment allows for an abundance of natural sunlight but stops the most direct glares from producing heat. While lighting may not be necessary during the peak of the day, a sophisticated -- and expensive -- system controls both the lighting and heating and cooling to ensure as little electricity as necessary is expended.

Solatubes add more natural light, and the roof is ready for solar panels to be installed.

"We learned to make every building solar ready," said Smith, an architect with Precision Planning. "In 10 years, that might be the norm as technology progresses."

While the building's construction costs are about $1 million higher than the Grayson branch, which opened five years ago, officials said the difference was made up by a state grant, allowing for the green touches as well as the increase in building costs over the past several years.

Officials are pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The building itself is expected to require 22 percent less energy and 30 percent less potable water, and Gwinnett government project manager Gray Booth said using materials such as wood instead of steel will help in the long-term maintenance costs.

"We've tried to have an eye for everything we did to bring in the most operational efficiencies as we could," Booth said. "We know that money isn't going to be there in coming years."

For Stanbery-Kellam, the new library, bookended with a periodical room and a children's story area and featuring the county's first outdoor storytime area, has its own unique character, just as each of the other branches do.

And while a green book display will greet visitors when the building opens Saturday, the services will be very familiar.

"It's yet another place for people to come and enjoy the library," she said. "This one obviously is a little bit different, but the services will be the same. ... I think it'll be well received."

After this weekend's "soft opening," a formal ribbon cutting is scheduled for May 8.