Girls Club’s Center for Community aims for the stars


By Dave Pentecost

At the Lower Eastside Girls Club, we like to say that we are raising the next generation of environmental, entrepreneurial and ethical leaders. When we designed the new Girls Club Center for Community — breaking ground this month and opening in late 2011 — we put special emphasis on the first in that list. We knew that if we did not build an efficient building, we would leave future girl leaders with high heating and air conditioning costs, and we would also lose a valuable teaching opportunity. The Center will have all systems visible for their study and monitoring, and will enable us to consolidate all of our now-scattered programs under one roof. The complex spans a T-shaped lot along Avenue D and runs between Seventh and Eighth Sts. 

You may be wondering, “What’s in the building?” and “Will I be welcome?” We will have a cafe serving up tasty locally sourced food and our famous Sweet Things baked goods from our commercial teaching kitchen and bakery; an environmental center with demonstration solar and wind generators; a science center for local school kids based around a 30-foot planetarium/dome theater and hands-on project labs. We will also have media production labs, including a 1958 Airstream trailer converted into a podcast recording studio, and a letterpress workshop for hand printing — leave your computer behind! For all of you history buffs, we will host an archive of Lower East Side and women’s history sponsored by homegrown actress, Rosario Dawson. Open to the community will be multipurpose space for exercise, yoga and family parties. And, yes, there will be community workshops, programs and amenities. Our doors will be open! 

For people interested in the green construction components, here is an overview: 

On the third- and fourth-floor roofs on Seventh and Eighth Sts., we will have two green roofs accessible from the environmental center and the technical shops. Above the planetarium, that roof will be covered in sedum — a low, colorful plant that never needs watering after it is first planted. 

Many people have asked us: “Isn’t building a green building very expensive? How do you keep a 30,000-square-foot facility heated and cooled? How do you get state funds to help in being more efficient? How do you qualify for a LEED green rating on the construction?” No single source had all of the answers, but we have been able to pull together a broad range of partners and supporters. We worked with the Community Environmental Center (C.E.C.), the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA), Viridian EE, LLC, and of course our architects at Cutsogeorge Tooman and Allen. The architects worked for years on early designs before the project really got off the ground, and helped coordinate the whole sequence of energy modeling, application for incentives and LEED commissioning. The process took a considerable amount of time but the actual costs to the Girls Club were lower than we had been warned to expect. During the time we worked to get the project started, the idea of a green building changed from an idealistic pursuit to an economic necessity that is now required in construction agreements with the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

In the early planning stages, the project fell under the supervision of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. At that time, only the community center was planned for the site. As a result, there was more opportunity to plan for roof-mounted solar panels, and to base the heating and cooling on geothermal wells with closed water loops that went down 150 feet into Manhattan bedrock. But when the city decided that the Girls Club should take on a developer partner to help in construction, the plan changed. The developer we chose would build 72 units of mixed-income housing above the community center on Avenue D. At the Girls Club’s insistence, 50 percent of the housing would be affordable, for middle- and low-income tenants. Once the project included housing, the city supervision moved to H.P.D. 

The planned heating and cooling system changed from ground loop (three wells in the back of the lot) to a high-efficiency, gas-fired, reverse-cycle, heat pump system. Why did we lose the ground loop system? In the time between the first plan and our second version, the cost to drill wells in Manhattan became five times as expensive, as demand for these systems rose and well-drillers raised their prices. The system we settled on uses the same water piping and heat exchangers to cool and heat the building, with a cooling tower on the roof and efficient gas boilers that can raise water temperature to a moderate level. Fresh-air quality is monitored and controlled, water use is minimized, insulation and window construction are kept to high standards. As a result of our attention to energy efficiency, we are receiving significant incentives from NYSERDA to offset additional costs, and we expect to receive a LEED gold rating. NYSERDA is also paying for more than half of the costs of energy modeling and LEED commissioning. 

When we open our doors, we will not only open the first Girls Club in New York, we will also welcome all neighborhood residents to the cafe, cooking classes, planetarium shows, workshops and public events. All this has come about through many years of thought and care, through the hard work of running innovative programs for girls, and as a result of constant fundraising, not just for day-to-day operations, but for a future with a permanent Girls Club in the Lower East Side.

There are many affordable ways to support this campaign — community bricks start at $150. If you would like to find out more about the Girls Club and our building project, visit www.girlsclub.org/building or contact us at 212-982-1633.

Pentecost is project manager for technology, Lower Eastside Girls Club