Historic Preservation Meets Sustainable Design in Downtown New Bedford

Coalition for Buzzards Bay Builds ‘Green’ Headquarters
By Becky W. Evans

NEW BEDFORD — Imagine this city’s industrial rooftops lush with grasses and plants that soak up stormwater, thereby preventing combined sewer overflows that pollute New Bedford Harbor with untreated sewage.
Mark Rasmussen, president of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, imagines such a future in his quest to improve the health of Buzzards Bay. He is one step closer to achieving his dream now that construction is under way at the advocacy group’s new “green” headquarters on Front Street.
The group is renovating the 1832 Coggeshall Counting House with environmentally friendly features that will reduce energy usage and educate the public about green building techniques they can replicate in their homes and businesses. Using historic photographs and records, architects and builders are attempting to restore the building’s exterior brick and granite facade to its 19th century condition, when it housed a chandlery, counting rooms, and sail and rigging lofts. Partially rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1939, the building has lost much of its original character and beauty.
“The level at which they are carrying out the restoration and the level at which they are bringing in sustainable design is at a level that we have not seen yet in New Bedford,” said Derek Santos, chairman of the New Bedford Historic Commission. “We are very excited and couldn’t be more supportive of what they are doing.”
The four-story brick building will showcase a vegetated roof that will absorb up to 50 percent of heavy rainfall during storms.
With a traditional roof, 100 percent of the rainwater would flow down the building and into storm drains, where it would mix with untreated sewage. Overburdened sewer pipes would dump the wastewater into the harbor rather than sending it to the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
The green roof is the “one thing that the building is doing directly” to reduce pollution in New Bedford Harbor and Buzzards Bay, Rasmussen said.
The building’s first-floor environmental education center will indirectly improve water quality by teaching the public about how human activity on land affects the health of the 28-mile-long bay. A large, three-dimensional model of the bay and its watershed will serve as the primary education tool. In addition, cylindrical water tanks will provide visitors with two different views of the bay’s ecosystem, one healthy and the other polluted.
The public will have access to fourth-floor meeting rooms and a library containing scientific and historical documents about Buzzards Bay. Coalition staff will occupy the second and third floors. A laboratory on the first floor will support the Baywatchers water quality monitoring program.
The $4 million project is being funded by a mix of public and private funds, Rasmussen said.
Most of the building’s green elements are designed to reduce energy use, he said. Foam insulated walls, double-glazed windows, and high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems will result in the building requiring only 65 percent of the electricity needed for a building of the same size constructed to the state Building Code.
South-facing solar panels installed on the roof will provide approximately 8 percent of the building’s total electricity needs. The coalition aims to run the building without using fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. To do so, they plan to buy renewable energy sourced electricity from NStar, Rasmussen said.
In keeping with the theme of reuse, the building’s hardwood flooring will be made from southern yellow pine support beams salvaged from the basement.
“It’s exciting seeing an 1830s building become a green building,” said Bill Reich of W.W. Reich, a Cape Cod construction and management firm. “It’s definitely a unique experience.”
With a membership base extending from Westport to Woods Hole, Rasmussen said it was difficult to decide the location for the coalition’s first permanent home. The group is currently renting space on Belleville Avenue in the city’s North End and also operates a seasonal office in Woods Hole.
The coalition’s board of directors chose downtown New Bedford for the new headquarters because “it is the region’s only city and is located where most of the bay’s largest problems span from, the area from Westport to Wareham,” Rasmussen said.
Those problems are suburban sprawl and nitrogen pollution, which have contributed to a loss of open space and to poor water quality that has diminished the bay scallop population.
The location in the city’s Waterfront Historic District should also provide high visibility that Rasmussen hopes will translate into increased awareness of the coalition and its mission.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said he is very supportive of the project since it meets a variety of city objectives such as historic preservation, environmental education and sustainable design.
“It’s the best of all possible worlds,” he said.
September 14, 2009
Source URL: http://www.southcoasttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090914/NEWS/909140315/-1/NEWS01#STS=fzl7wopo.20iq

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