By Kathryn G. Menu
The board of trustees of Bridgehampton’s Hampton Library has been grappling with how to contend with a geothermal heating and air conditioning system that simply does not work. At the root of the issue is a heating and air system compromised by the presence of iron in the groundwater, according to library director Kelly Harris. A solution is being discussed but many questions—including the cost of fixing the system—remain unknown, she said.
The geothermal heating and air conditioning system was constructed for the library as part of a $6 million expansion that was completed in 2009. The project increased the size of the Main Street library by just over 4,000 square feet—from 6,000 square feet to 11,000 square feet.
According to Ms. Harris, the library selected a geothermal heating and air system because it was an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional systems, which rely largely on oil or gas to function. Geothermal uses the ground as a heat source in the winter, and as a heat sink, or cooling source, in the summer. While there are a number of ways to harness the technology to heat or cool a building, said Ms. Harris, the library used an open loop system using one source well and two return wells relying on ground water. And that appears to be a big part of the problem.
This August it became apparent that there were issues with the quality of the well water feeding the geothermal system, said Ms. Harris, leading to the system failing at the height of the summer season.
“The iron content in the water spiked so dramatically from when we first put the system in that there was too much iron sediment,” said Ms. Harris. “It coated the machines. You could compare it to plaque building up in the arteries. If the water can’t get through, the system doesn’t work.”
The jump in the iron content, she said, is so far unexplained. When the groundwater was first tested in advance of the system being installed, Ms. Harris said a high iron content was not detected.
“I would love to have someone to blame, but I cannot,” she said. “The quality of the aquifer changed dramatically, and quickly.”
According to Ms. Harris, the library’s board of trustees has yet to determine how it will resolve the problem, although she said the library would likely continue to use a water source heat pump system.
“At this time I do not have an estimate to the cost of the repair,” she said. “We are dedicated to choosing the most cost-effective, energy-efficient solution possible. At this point to ‘ball park’ a number would be difficult, if not impossible.”
Ms. Harris said she expects the board will come to a decision soon, as the library is committed to having a working heating and air conditioning system by the time th summer season arrives.
Fortunately, said Ms. Harris, while the system failed in August the library remained open, using open windows and fans to keep the building at a comfortable temperature. Emergency heat has enabled the library to remain open throughout the winter, she added, even as the library has extended its hours.
“Even with no air conditioning—we were lucky it was not terribly hot toward the end of last summer—we still had record numbers for programming and our circulation stats were through the roof,” she said. “It’s a testament to how wonderful the staff is here. I have a great team.”