- THE MAGAZINE
For many Catholic parishes today, sustainability is not just an architectural precept; it is a matter of social responsibility. On January 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI stated that “creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works, and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind.” The Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles followed the Pope’s call for preservation when it announced the formation of the Creation Sustainability Committee, a group of “green-minded Catholic parishioners, priests, community members, environmentalists and social justice-minded people throughout the Archdiocese” that will assist parishes in becoming more sustainable. In summer 2010, St. Jerome Catholic Church in Westchester, Calif. led the Archdiocese’s movement towards sustainability when it achieved LEED Silver certification for the renovation of its 17,100-square-foot parish hall. A multi-cultural parish with humble beginnings, St. Jerome Catholic Church was, in some ways, an unexpected place for the Archdiocese’s first LEED certified project. However, the green design of the parish hall serves as an example for the future, showing that even parishes with modest means can help preserve the Earth through sustainable design.
From Humble Beginnings to Sustainable TraditionsSt. Jerome Catholic Church was first established in 1949, with Mass offered in a local theater until a church could be completed in 1950.
“The beginnings of our parish were humble,” notes Rev. Msgr. Norman Priebe, and it was founded on “a welcoming community of faith.” Built in 1950, the parish hall served as St. Jerome’s original church until 1966 when a new worship space accommodated the parish’s growth. Since then, the parish hall has constantly been in use by the community and the K-8 school as both an assembly space on the lower level and a sports facility on the upper level. However in 2006, it was determined that the 60-year-old parish hall needed modernization. Rather than build brand-new, St. Jerome followed its tradition of reuse.
From day one, sustainable goals were set for the design team at Cuningham Group Architecture, P.A. (Cuningham Group) and Stonemark Construction Management, who were commissioned to facilitate the remodel project: 1) it should provide another 40 years of use; 2) it must maintain the building’s traditional Spanish-style character; 3) it must be updated for ADA access, A/V technology, fenestration and finishes; and 4) it must improve the urban site near transportation. The Archdiocese, parish members, architect and builder collaborated on the sustainability features. The green design called for features such as innovative mechanical system controls; new skylights to boost and equalize ambient lighting in the gym; water-conserving restroom fixtures; new glazing; new lighting and lighting-control systems; reused or selected materials with significant recycled content; and better metering of electrical power. The renovation also included a new wood floor for the basketball court, new kitchen equipment, an updated communication system, state-of-the-art audio-visual systems and security systems.
Spirit of EnergyDuring the design development, project mechanical consultants created a study model of energy performance. The plan focused on using natural daylighting and ventilation; increasing the efficiency and control of artificial lighting; meeting American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) “Comfort Envelope” standards; and extended training for all of the equipment control systems.
To achieve these objectives, an efficient HVAC system was installed with interior sensors, which bring in outside air only when the CO² levels indicate a need to ventilate, and an economizer control, which uses outside air to cool the building if the outside air temperature is below the interior air temperature. By using interior return air, it helps reduce cooling exterior air when the system is operating. Working together, the CO² sensors and economizer control help reduce the refrigeration load to the equipment servicing assemblies.
The parish hall added many other energy efficiencies. A Lutron ‘scene-set’ lighting system was installed not only for the stage lighting, but also to efficiently control all of the lighting throughout the building. Double glazing with low-E coating was put in place to keep the building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The basketball court was also designed to stay naturally ventilated and lighted all-year long with added skylights and windows. And as part of the LEED commissioning process, the design and build team plans to conduct interviews with the parish hall users six months after use to ensure the building operates as designed. All of these energy-efficient measures are estimated to be a virtual energy savings of approximately 20 percent for the parish hall’s HVAC system.
Reuse and RecyclingIn addition to reducing energy consumption, St. Jerome Catholic Church also intended to reduce water usage. Low-flow plumbing fixtures were installed in the restrooms, while the landscaping surrounding the parish hall also minimized the need for irrigation. These strategies are estimated to result in a 30 percent reduction in water use.
When it came to improving air quality and reducing the building’s carbon footprint, the design team used low VOC paints, sealants and adhesives, as well as reused the existing building’s wood, concrete and steel. For the new hardwood floor on the basketball court, they installed a special sports floor sourced from sustainable and managed forests. And for the drywall, ceiling tile and exterior masonry, they used locally and regionally manufactured products.
As a result of the new design, daily parish operations also changed. Parish hall users now serve refreshments on china (washed in a new two-minute cycle dishwasher) instead of Styrofoam, while an enclosed recycling area creates a more convenient space for the parish’s recycling program. A central chilled water bottle refiller station was also installed to discourage plastic bottle use and encourage patrons to bring their own reusable sports bottles.