Wellesley town buildings to keep getting greener

Wellesley’s Sustainable Energy Committee had originally planned to bring its plan for the town to design and operate its buildings in a greener way to Town Meeting. Given that Town Meeting might not still happen for a while due to the COVID-19 crisis, it was probably a good idea that the committee instead embarked on a process of seeking approval from 7 boards, committees and commissions that would commit to supporting the Municipal Sustainable Building Guidelines in their various doings.

The guidelines are set and we’ve embedded the current rendition below.

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Wellesley Sustainable Energy Director Marybeth Martello says the committee has knocked off 5 of the 7 groups from which it seeks approval (Natural Resources Commission, School Committee, Board of Public Works, Recreation Commission, Municipal Light Board). The Library Board of Trustees is up next and the Board of Selectmen would wrap things up. A public hearing about the guidelines was held back in January, and presentations and discussions about the guidelines have been held over the past year.

While this all might seem like a more government- than resident-focused issue, Martello says there are plenty of takeaways for residents.

“Town buildings are central to civic life and education in Wellesley. Sustainable municipal buildings will lower Wellesley’s carbon footprint, increase resilience, provide healthier indoor environments and serve as important exemplars and teaching tools for the community,” she says. “While sustainable municipal buildings can sometimes have higher upfront costs than conventional buildings, lower operating and maintenance costs generally offset the higher initial investment.”

Martello comes armed with plenty of numbers regarding Wellesley’s environmental goals.

A big one: Greenhouse gas emissions from Wellesley’s municipal buildings contribute about 70% of the municipal carbon footprint (though we suspect most of the buildings must be emitting fewer bad things while serving skeleton staffs).

“As a Massachusetts Green Community, Wellesley agreed to decrease its annual municipal energy use 20% below 2015 levels by the end of 2020. In 2014, Annual Town Meeting approved a goal to reduce town-wide greenhouse gas emissions 25% below 2007 levels by 2020,” she says. “Wellesley’s Municipal Sustainable Building Guidelines will help Wellesley to pursue its energy and emissions goals with the recognition that successful building projects require a balance among programmatic, environmental and economic factors.”

In other words, the guidelines aren’t all about going green at all costs. The buildings, whether they are new or renovated, or privately developed on town land, still need to be functional, flexible, comfortable and cost-effective.

But stakeholders will need to buy into sustainability goals from the start. This will influence choices such as bringing in feasibility study and design consultants with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and Zero Net Energy chops. It will also entail establishing sustainable operating and user practices throughout a building’s life.

And now in light of the COVID-19 crisis, new considerations are in play. The financial implications have temporarily shelved the Town Hall Annex project, even though it would eventually give Town Hall the sort of roominess it could  use in a socially distanced world.

“Although we are learning more as the pandemic continues, it will likely impact future design of work station configurations for social distancing and will increase digital use for working meetings and public access,” she says. “Energy efficiency, interior air quality and cleanable surfaces, which are an element of sustainable design, will be critical design features.”

Meanwhile, Wellesley’s Municipal Sustainable Building Guidelines have already started to make their mark.

“We are thrilled to see that the Guidelines are already influencing building projects in Wellesley with the zero-net-energy-ready design of Hunnewell School, zero-net-energy plans for the Town Hall Annex and plans for an all-electric residential building at Wellesley Office Park,” she says.

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