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Rededication honors Vernet

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It’s been a long time coming — and a bit of a mess. But this weekend the public will have the opportunity to see firsthand an investment that was well worth the wait.

On Saturday, beginning at noon, the Glen Helen Ecology Institute will host an Open House and Festival of Leaves to celebrate the rededication of the Glen Helen Building.

The rededication follows a two-year, half million dollar renovation project. And the most significant part of the project has been a dramatic increase in the overall energy efficiency of the Trailside Museum and the Glen Helen Building.

Following the rededication, the Glen Helen building will henceforth be known as the Vernet Ecological Center. The name honors Sergius and Suzanne Vernet, who founded both Vernay Laboratories and the Vernay Foundation that funded many projects in the village, including the Glen building, before dissolving in 2009.

Along with the scheduled 2 p.m. rededication ceremony, the open house, which runs from noon to 4 p.m., will feature nature craft sessions, family friendly activities, story tellers Brother Wolf and Harold and Jonatha Wright, snacks, and “up close encounters with the educational critters of Glen Helen.”

The Tecumseh Land trust and its educational committee will be actively involved in the day’s activities.

“The point of the open house is that I want the community to know that we’re better than we were,” said Brooke Bryan, project manager for marketing, development, and public programs for the institute. “Our intention was to really ramp up the efficiency of our buildings so that we could walk our talk a little bit better,” she said. “We’re here, all is well, and the construction phase is behind us.”

Bryan said the renovation project allows the institute to add an additional component to its programs.

“The energy efficiency improvements allow us another level of public education because now we’re able to tell people about some of the changes we made here in our windows and in the way that we heat and cool the building,” Bryan said.

Ann Shaw, the institute’s business manager, said the biggest chunk of funding for the project, $356,657, came from federal stimulus money allocated through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“We are an example of a well-spent stimulus project,” she said. “The stimulus funds that came to us were truly and frugally used to make us energy efficient.”

The additional $141,000 for the project came from the Glen Helen Association and the institute’s operating budget.

The institute was able to allocate funds from its operating budget for the project because the new geothermal system eliminates the monthly cost of natural gas.

“So the saving realized by that is going to help us way into the future,” Shaw said.

The renovation project also included a high efficiency furnace and new ductwork for the Trailside Museum.

Nick Boutis, executive director of the Glen Helen Ecology Institute, said that after the system went online, natural gas to the building was completely shut off.

“Because we are using geothermal, pulling the temperature differential out of the ground, the village of Yellow Springs is moving from the mix that most municipalities have where your electricity is predominantly covered from coal or gas,” Boutis said. “So when people use electricity in Yellow Springs we will be having a lower carbon footprint than somebody using electricity elsewhere.”

The geothermal project took place over the 2010-2011 winter, beginning with the excavation of the parking lot and the installation of a well field and a mile of pipeline underneath the parking lot. (Geothermal wells use land like rechargeable batteries: during the summer months heat is pulled from a building, and in the winter months the system uses ground heat to warm a building.)

The geothermal project, a $300,00 investment, was clearly an enormous undertaking. But he noted that the project’s cost exceeded the cost for a normal residence because the building had to comply with more rigid standards and building codes.

“The system needs to be able to cool the auditorium for 150 people on the hottest day of the year,” he said. “And at the same time it has to heat that room for 150 people on the coldest day of the year.”

By eliminating the cost of natural gas and the accompanying gas service, the institute will save approximately $500 a year.

Sitting in the building’s conference room, with its new insulated cork floor, Boutis said that the energy improvements in the soon to be rededicated Vernet Ecological Center have broader implications.

“The underlying message to me from all the improvements here is that everything we did are things that people can do in their own houses and their own business places,” he said.

“It would save them dollars on their operations and lower their impact on the environment.”


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