Friday, June 1, 2012
HABITAT: Gimme Shelter (and Food): Lessons from the Brattleboro Coop Building (includes tour)
HOST – Alex Wilson, founder, BuildingGreen, Inc., Brattleboro VT
Alex Gyori, general manager, Brattleboro Food Coop, Brattleboro VT
Bob Stevens, president, Stevens & Associates, Brattleboro VT
Gregg Gossens, principal, Gossens Bachman Architects, Montpelier VT

When the popular Brattleboro Food Co-op outgrew its kitchen, the members found themselves having options: They could move to the empty Grand Union grocery site, stay in the present location with a limited building footprint and renovate the energy systems at a sizable cost, carry on as is, or construct a new building.

During the “Community Engagement Cycle” of open forums, surveys and feasibility studies, the topic of housing surfaced and resurfaced as did the strong desire for the coop to remain as a socioeconomic anchor of downtown Brattleboro.

The Coop recognized that including housing was not financially viable nor within their skill set. However, thanks to a long-established culture of enthusiastic innovation and respectful partnership, the Co-op chose to dream big and then to manifest their dreams: They designed a store on practically the same site as the original building in collaboration with the Windham & Windsor Housing Trust. The new coop building has four floors, the top two floors of which are twenty-four small, affordable apartments owned and managed by the Trust.

Both the scope and the engineering details of the Brattleboro Coop Building are state-of-the-art. Inside, the floors are polished cement, a technique that is labor-intensive initially but superbly durable and easy to maintain. Refrigeration units are composed of triple-glazed windows (the standard is double) and fiberglass frames (rather than the standard metal frames which are conductive.) Heat generated by the motors of the cooling units is recaptured rather than vented outside and is redirected for hot water and winter heat for both the store and the apartments. Skylights provide daylighting rather than relying on electricity.

Outside, the infrastructure for green roofs has been built to decrease heat reflection and to mitigate rainwater runoff. A vegetative buffer zone will be planted between the parking lot / public plaza and the Whetstone Brook. Co-op Power of Greenfield is helping to sponsor a solar array for the production of electricity.

With the doors set to open in less than a week, the design team, the coop members, and even the construction crew are all smiles.


Shira Wohlberg