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Uniting wellness and sustainability: Fountain House's green initiative dovetails with its emphasis on member wellness.

Fountain House is a clubhouse for people with major mental illnesses in New York City. Known for its professional self-help approach to employment, education, and housing, Fountain House has created a complete system of community supports for its members by partnering with psychiatrists for psychiatric and medical services, while Fountain House provides all of the other supports a person needs for recovery.

Fountain House practices a model of positive environmental intervention. In some ways, it is the distant descendant of the "moral treatment" approach of the 1850s, which also regarded the environment as crucial to mental well-being. The upkeep of our large space (60,000 square feet, consisting of six joined brownstones and a Georgian-style main building joined to them) is a constant labor of love. At any time, somewhere in the building something is being replaced, cleaned, fixed, and/or renovated.

In 2006, Fountain House realized it needed to replace its 40-year-old heating and cooling system. As part of thinking about options for the boiler, clubhouse member Norman Feldman led the community in evaluating the impact of all of the building systems on both the immediate and the larger, societal envitonment.

The Board of Directors' Building Committee evaluated several options for renewable energy, including a geothermal solution and combined heat and power (CHP). The committee consulted with Steven Winter Associates, Inc., who helped with the energy modeling, and it chose to replace the HVAC systems for all of the buildings with a microturbine CHP system, which will generate all electricity on-site (see sidebar). The system will be operational next year. The committee plans on pursuing the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED-EB Gold certification, a voluntary rating system for existing, high-performance buildings.


"Fountain House is a unique space in both its mission and its design," notes Steven Winter, president of his firm. "The age of the facilities and wide variety of systems used throughout has challenged the organization and the design team to seek more cost-effective, manageable, and efficient systems, but also to create a space which will be comfortable and useful for the occupants and will be viewed as a hallmark of environmentally responsible design."

This emphasis on greener operations at Fountain House is complemented by a parallel initiative on wellness. Eight years ago, the Fountain House community was stunned when four of its members, all under age 40, died of health-related reasons with in one month. These deaths galvanized the entire community to begin a dialogue on what we could do to help our members address their health issues.

In 2004, Fountain House formed its Wellness Initiative to take on this crisis by analyzing members' diet, exercise, and lifestyles. As we studied these issues, we realized that these deaths of Fountain House members are part of an epidemic of premature deaths among people with major mental illness. Life expectancy for people with bipolar illness, schizophrenia, and major depression is 19 years less than the general population. The Wellness Initiative's mission is to introduce members to healthy foods and nutritional education, encourage exercise and fitness, lead integrative health classes, and organize smoking-cessation and many other wellness practices. The initiative also gathers statistics on improved health, increased life span, and weight control through on-site and off-site pilot programs.

As this issue gained momentum, Adam and Peter Lewis contributed an extraordinary capital gift for our Wellness Renovation Project. Our new $3 million, 5,000-square-foot, two-story addition, designed by Elskop Scholz, will open in 2010 and will include:


* A training gym for fitness and ergonomically sound physical practice

* Men's and women's lockers/showers with restrooms

* Four classrooms for training and private consultation

* A health bar offering nutritional food and beverages

* A kitchen for cooking classes and dietary coaching

* A research library with video and Internet access

* A conference room

"As architect for Fountain House, Elskop Scholz has worked with the organization for over eight years during which more than half of the clubhouse buildings have been renovated," says Christopher Scholz, AIA. "At the same time we have sought to upgrade and rationalize many systems and practices throughout the complex to meet rising standards in support of Fountain House's mission.

"The requirement that mechanical systems be replaced, the decision of the Fountain House community to pursue an environmentally conscious path in the future, and its desire to address the physical health of its members through the creation of the new wellness center is an exciting opportunity for Fountain House to build significant new space," Scholz adds.


As both the retrofit of the old HVAC systems and the Wellness Renovation Project move forward, the concepts of greening and wellness, as well as Fountain House's understanding of the environment, have become joined in one overarching project. For example, the decision to remove the old HVAC systems from the roof opened up the opportunity to build the Wellness Center on top of the existing building. In addition, gardens will be planted on the roof.

A simple start to being greener recently was taken by replacing existing cleaning products with environmentally friendly ones, which were introduced with great fanfare. However, neither members nor staff liked the products' smell or believed that they cleaned well. To address these concerns, the Fountain House community began educating itself about the health and environmental benefits of green cleaning products. The key lesson learned was that people's beliefs and practices are slow to change.

Fountain House is considering/implementing other sustainable design features as well:

* Conserving water with low-flow/flush fixtures

* Using materials with high-recycled content

* Installing Energy Star-rated appliances

* Reducing energy use by installing intelligent controls (monitoring devices that, for example, turn off lights when no one is in the room and control heating/cooling)

* Using nontoxic building materials

* Installing an active "living" wall of plants as part of the ventilation system

* Bringing in more natural daylight to improve productivity

* Reducing the building's carbon footprint by 170 tons annually by reducing greenhouse gas emissions

* Improving indoor air quality with demand-controlled ventilation

"We are more than pleased that Fountain House is undertaking the ambitious task of innovating an approach which focuses on the importance of physical health, sustainable design, and energy conservation," says Joel D. Corcoran, executive director of the International Center for Clubhouse Development. "We believe it will have important implications for the lives of its members and staff, and at the same time, break new ground, conceptually as well as physically, not only for clubhouses but for social service agencies more broadly."

"For us, this project is both practical and visionary," notes Guy de Chazal, immediate past-chair of Fountain House's Board of Directors. "We have a responsibility to reduce operating expenses and to increase the quality of life for members and staff. As well, following the leadership of Board members, staff, and supporters, some of whom have been involved in major and innovative green efforts throughout the country, we see an important connection between our primary mission of health and rehabilitation and a coherent green strategy which expresses our commitment to the larger community."

RELATED ARTICLE: Combined heat and power systems

Combined heat and power (CHP) is the simultaneous generation of usable heat and power (usually electricity) in a single process. CHP is a highly efficient way to use both fossil and renewable fuels and, therefore, can make a significant contribution to sustainable energy goals, bringing environmental, economic, social, and energy security benefits.

CHP systems can be employed over a wide range of sizes, applications, fuels, and technologies. In its simplest form, it employs a gas turbine, an engine, or a steam turbine to drive an alternator, and the resulting electricity can be used either wholly or partially on-site. The heat produced during power generation is recovered, usually in a heat recovery boiler, and can be used to raise steam for a number of industrial processes, to provide hot water for space heating or, with the appropriate equipment installed, cooling.
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Title Annotation:FACILITY DESIGN
Author:Aron, Jeffrey
Publication:Behavioral Healthcare
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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