Sustainability Renovations Underway at Rauner Library

News subtitle

Chiller system powered by electricity to provide most heat and cooling.

Dave Hosford upgrading Rauner library’s heating system
Dave Hosford of Vermont Heating and Ventilating works on the Rauner project. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

As part of Dartmouth’s ongoing energy transition, the Rauner Special Collections Library is in the midst of changing the building’s heating system away from campus steam to hot water, which is significantly more efficient.

Officials overseeing the project have worked through logistical challenges since the library, which houses the College’s collections of rare books, manuscripts, and other historical documents, remains fully operational even as its heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems and equipment are being upgraded.

With the new systems, a significant portion of the building’s heating requirements will be met with a heat-recovery chiller powered by electricity, rather than from steam generated by burning heating oil. The chiller primarily produces cold chilled water for cooling and dehumidification to achieve the stable relative humidity the special collections require. The heat removed from the water is redirected to the heating system, effectively reducing the building’s steam consumption by 82%.

“This will result in a reduction of approximately 37,800 gallons (900 barrels) per year of #6 fuel oil burned at the campus heating plant,” says Energy Program Manager Scott Hening.

In addition to the energy upgrades, work is also taking place to replace control valves that help regulate temperature and humidity throughout the building. Upgrades to the control system have been long overdue and are an important part of the project, says Julia Pfeiffer, program manager for Dartmouth’s energy infrastructure renewal.

Rauner Library in the winter
The Rauner Special Collections Library is getting some major efficiency upgrades while also keeping its valuable material in a protective climate. (Photo by Kevin Yang)

The switch from steam heat to hot water in buildings across campus serves to improve energy efficiency as Dartmouth pivots from its central heating plant and steam-heating system toward newer energy technologies that will significantly reduce the College’s carbon footprint.

“The Rauner conversion is one of more than 100 buildings on campus that we will transition to high-efficiency hot-water heat. As with Rauner, each building will have its own set of circumstances,” Pfeiffer said. She said the hot-water systems have so far been installed in 10 buildings.

As the Rauner project was in its initial stages in early December, the desks and chairs in a row of offices had been replaced by tools and ladders, and the walls of bookshelves were lined with tarps. Next door in the library’s reading room, a small group of researchers were quietly poring over manuscripts, as they always did.

“Historical materials are sensitive; they are affected by fluctuations in temperature and humidity,” says Jay Satterfield, head of special collections. Renovators had to work out ways to carry out upgrades with minimal disruption to the controlled environment needed to preserve the prized collection.

Books on a shelf partially covered with a plastic sheet
The rare books in Rauner had some temporary protection as work on the project began. (Photo by Harini Barath)

Similar efficiency upgrades were executed during the course of a summer term at Steele Hall, because it could be closed down completely. At Rauner however, the work is unfolding in phases over a six-month period and is expected to be completed by early summer.

“This is not a typical construction process,” says Pfeiffer. “We’re having to take it almost room by room, working in coordination with the library staff.” Rauner staff have been closely involved in the process for over a year and a half, when planning for the project began.

The Rauner Library uses a lot of energy because of the environmental control that needs to be constantly maintained to preserve the valuable artifacts in the building, which range from Daniel Webster’s copy of the first edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America to cuneiform tablets dating from the 20th century BCE.

“The places I work in tend to be energy intensive,” says Satterfield. Trying to do right by both the environment and important historical documentation is a tricky balance to achieve, he says. “We care deeply about both.”

Improving the efficiency of Rauner is an extremely important part of the sustainability project as a whole, says Pfeiffer.

Planning and design work is already underway for energy conversions in the next group of buildings and the distribution networks that feed them, she adds.

“The library staff has been fantastic to work with. This is not a convenient project for them, as they will have active construction throughout a very sensitive building for several months,” says Pfeiffer. “Their willingness to coordinate closely with us has been the reason the project execution has been successful thus far.”

Harini Barath