LEED BD+C: New Construction v2 - LEED 2.1
Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation
LEED Platinum 2008
Goals and motivations
What were the top overarching goals and objectives?
Meeting the needs of the community and engaging people in their values was something to which JRC was strongly committed to. Engaging, educating and empowering people to act became a very useful formula for leading the congregation through the project process. Discussions centered on finding and confirming the values of the community, educating on the why's of living out those values and then providing a clear direction, something for the community to act upon, that could make those strongly held values come to life. This process created a direct and meaningful connection between the community and change.
First was to use reclaimed and recycled materials and forgo the use of new materials when possible. This is most visible in the reclaimed Cyprus used in the exterior and throughout the interior of the building. Brick and concrete were also re-purposed from the original building. Wood was sourced locally, diverting it from being landfilled or mulched.
Another goal was the optimization of the HVAC system for maximum efficiency and flexibility. Seven 15-ton modules were installed which have compressors that turn on and off as needed. The mechanical systems are constantly adjusting to meet the needs of the space based on usage and occupancy loads. If the building is a third occupied, or 100% occupied, the load will ramp up or ramp down as needed. This really helps to reduce heating and cooling loads.
What were the most notable strategies used to earn LEED credits?
JRC was committed to the re-use of natural materials, focusing on local sources and materials that could be repurposed from the original JRC structure. Concrete masonry units from the original sanctuary, as well as brick and welded wire mesh, were incorporated into the structure of the new building. In total, the project achieved close to a 98% diversion rate of all materials from the original synagogue.
Beams in the second floor of the sanctuary were made of Black Walnut from felled storm-trees that had been gathered by the Chicago Park District. Reclaimed Cypress was built into the ceremonial front door, the synagogue walls and along the exterior of the structure.
The project approach focused heavily on passive strategies, such as the buffering of spaces, orientation of windows and layering. The building zones were considered in creating an index of most and least used spaces.
Using that information, the HVAC was designed with the flexibility to meet those needs. Southern and northern exposures were utilized in the ceremonial space to reduce the need for environmental controls.
The mechanical engineer noticed that the variable occupancy of the space would greatly affect the HVAC needs of the building from one day to the next. As a result, huge energy savings were achieved by designing the chiller modules to be wired in sequence. This allows the seven chiller modules to turn on in sequence, in accordance to the direct occupancy needs of the building.
"Right sizing" the building led to a highly effective use of resources. The total volume of the building was reduced by using 12- foot ceiling heights through most of the structure, except the second floor sanctuary which has a larger ceiling height and the perimeter space which have 9-foot ceilings. These aggressive height limitations contributed to a smaller building volume, which in turn means less building to heat and cool and less resources used. The strategies used to reduce the overall volume of the building reduced the cost of the exterior wall system and allowed the project to accomplish greater material and energy efficiency.
The connections between nature, sustainability and spirituality are most evident in the second floor sanctuary. A lot of time was dedicated to the location of the sanctuary. It is common for worship spaces to be placed on the first floor. However, JRC chose to put the space on the top floor of the building. A conscious decision was made to have a pre-standing arc, highlighted with a glass wall which looks out over the neighborhood. The congregation is looking out towards the trees, always connecting with nature. The congregation is experiencing spirituality through both worship and connecting with nature.
Aside from LEED certification, what do you consider key project successes?
There is a notable difference in the congregations' approach to sustainability issues. Achieving LEED Platinum certification has caused them to think more about living more sustainably, and proactively finding ways JRC can be more sustainable. Substantial growth of the membership after the project was completed was a key indicator of success. Significant savings were achieved by the careful attention paid to the HVAC systems during the first year of the project. When JRC found out that the system did not work the way it was designed, they used metering to make adjustments and fine tune it. They were able to turn around the HVAC issues which resulted in significant energy and financial savings. By the end, the HVAC system actually performed more efficiently than what was projected by the energy model!
Setting the team up for success was critical in achieving one of the more difficult LEED points, MRc2.2 Construction Waste Management, diversion of over 75% of materials from disposal; an achievement made possible through the use of reclaimed materials. Doing our research and sourcing the materials that were to be obtained by the contractor, we were able to ensure that the Cyprus and other critical materials that JRC wanted to use were actually available and obtainable.
Exterior wall systems, generally one of the more costly systems to install, were reduced through the commitment to 12-foot and 9-foot floor to floor heights. This reduced the amount of exterior "clouding" and saved the team money on expensive exterior materials.
Having a client, the congregation, who was very open to listening and being pragmatic, was critical to the success of the project. "They were all involved in the decision making. Without their desire to achieve the goals with the building, [the project] probably would not have happened. Nothing is better than a motivated client"
The challenge of LEED is going through the process of determining which credits are achievable at each site. Balancing the credits which are possible to achieve with the vision of the JRC integrated a lot of layers. This required bringing people in, listening to them and really having a back and forth dialog.
Additionally, even though the team was extremely proud of the exterior Cypress and beautiful look of the building, presently the Cypress on the southern end of the building is showing some significant damage due to contraction and expansion. The use of reclaimed Cypress came with a lot of unknowns. When using something that is not a manufactured product there is always a risk involved. JRC is currently looking to replace the southern exterior.
What was the value of applying LEED to this project?
LEED Platinum status helped in increasing the membership of JRC. Not only was the occupancy increased from, roughly, 300 in the old building to 600 in the new building, but the publicity associated with the LEED Platinum certification brought a lot of attention as well. JRC was featured in articles worldwide, including publications in Paris, Israel and Australia. JRC was also covered extensively in the local Chicago market. In the first two to three years after the new building opened, several thousand people came to see it. In response, JRC created a docent program which led two tours per week for several years.
Knowledge gained from the JRC project has been used in subsequent work, such as the promotion of urban forested products such as flooring or wall paneling produced from felled trees collected by the city. Many times this type of reclaimed wood is difficult to get.
The congregation as a whole was already highly education about sustainable practices before the project began. However, since the completion of the new JRC, they began a robust recycling program, enrolled in a composting service and have adopted other impressive faith-based initiatives. The congregation uses the building to make the membership, as a whole, more aware of sustainability.
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