Illinois synagogue seeks first LEED Platinum for a house of worship

February 01, 2008 |
  Designed by Chicago-based architect Carol Ross Barney, the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., will be the first LEED Platinum house of worship in the nation when the facility opens this month. The project has already achieved 50 LEED points, one short of LEED Platinum, and has submitted paperwork for three more points. Salvaged brick and masonry, displacement ventilation, dual-flush toilets, and FSC-certified wood are among the green features. PHOTO: JEFF YODERS  

“And thou shalt not defile the land which ye inhabit.”—Numbers 35:34

W orshippers at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, Ill., will come a little closer to fulfilling the Biblical mandate when their new synagogue opens this month. It was designed to be the first LEED Platinum house of worship in the nation.

“The Torah teaches us that the earth does not belong to us—that we are stewards of God's creation,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen of the JRC. “Building the most sustainable facility possible was, for us, a religious act.”

The $7.5 million, 32,000-sf synagogue, designed by Chicago architect Carol Ross Barney, has already achieved 50 LEED points, two short of LEED Platinum, and has submitted paperwork for three more points. Green features include salvaged brick and masonry, reused engineered fill and foundations, a water conservation strategy that starts with dual-flush toilets, sustainable materials such as fly ash concrete and Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood, and sunlight harvesting through large low-e glass windows. The synagogue's displacement ventilation system and diffusers are hidden beneath reclaimed cypress slats.

The top floor of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation’s synangogue houses its sanctuary (above). The worship space can be divided to create more space. The building holds its first services on February 10. PHOTO: JEFF YODERS  

The synagogue achieved 33 construction-related points and 7 out of 10 energy optimization credits for a total of 45% energy savings over a similar building, according to MEP engineer Einhorn Yaffee Prescott of Chicago.

The true innovation in its design came from creative use of flexible space. “The 32,000 sf [building size] was really a challenge,” said Ross Barney, whose public buildings include the Federal Building in Oklahoma City that replaced the Murrah Federal Building, site of the 1995 bombing. “One of the things we did was look at how space could be used efficiently. Designing an energy-efficient LEED building and working on such a small site (the building goes right to the property line on two sides) really went hand in hand. Not only did the building materials need to be efficient, the space had to be efficient, so it meant optimizing everything.”

A mechanical door with a sound transmission coefficient of 55 separates the third-floor main worship space for functions such as bar/bat mitzvahs; it can be retracted in two minutes. The divided event space it creates seats up to 300. Lighting and sound systems are separate for both sides of the door. The first-floor childcare center and classrooms also have ancillary uses, such as meeting space. The “optimization” effort by the Building Team meant that the building came in at $220/sf. LEED application and consulting costs amounted to about 1.5% of the building's total cost.

Traditionally, the sanctuary is located on the first floor, but Ross Barney was able to move it to the top floor, the third. Since there was no need for lengthy spans across this floor, she was able to achieve an 18-foot ceiling and cover the east wall extensively with glass. With the glass wall affording a view to the east on the top floor, the first and second floors were freed up for the flexible classrooms, daycare, meeting space, and offices.

The congregation also plans to enact a green-use policy for the building.

“The congregation board decided in 2004 that we wanted to achieve LEED at the highest level possible,” said Alan Saposnik, president of the congregation's board. “At the next meeting the board is looking to pass a policy on how we will use it.”

Saposnik said properly using light dimmers, window shading, and other passive technologies that made up many of the synagogue's LEED points would be in the JRC policy. The congregation also plans to ban the use of foam cups and plates, recycle paper and plastic, and set a minimum rule for meetings that would keep the building's MEP systems on at night. Saposnik said the congregation will ask small groups to meet in a member's home or another public place for small meetings. All of the energy systems in the building have not only day and night settings, but occupied and unoccupied daytime settings that automatically shut off.

Saposnik says the congregation hoped to hear from the U.S. Green Building Council soon about the final three LEED points, but he feels confident it will achieve LEED Platinum. “Anything we can do to help the environment is in our best interest and in our children's best interest,” he said.

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