Friday, April 22, 2016

Sustained conservation

Columbo, service dog in training,
appreciates energy conservation.
Reduce, reuse, recycle are Phinney Center founding values
Originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of The Review
In the 1980s, when a group of neighbors formed the PNA, one of their very first projects together was focused on conservation: designing and building internal storm windows for houses in the neighborhood. “Energy conservation and sustainability were som-e of the first cornerstones and one of the ways they started reaching out and finding a community to work together on stuff,” says PNA Director of Facilities Bill Fenimore. “It was also based on that idea of neighbors helping neighbors.”
Sustainability is an important PNA value; the drive to “reduce, reuse and recycle” is reflected through many different programs and initiatives, including the Tool Lending Library, the PNA Fixer’s Collective, PhinneyWood Garage Sale Day, book swaps and various recycling drives. However, according to Bill, “the most green, the most sustainable initiative we have taken on is the preservation of buildings on this campus.”

He continues, “The ability to take what was an elementary school and turn it into a community center without tearing old buildings down and putting up brand new buildings is an enormous creative reuse of what is here.”

Just as the PNA upgraded the original three-story Blue Building with an elevator and other improvements, the new Campaign for Accessibility will modernize the Brick Building so it can remain useful and functional for the community.

As Bill notes, “In making these buildings work better, you are actually doing something very sustainable. You don’t have to go out and buy new bricks and new timbers and build a new building if you can make an existing building work really well for what the community needs.”

Even with smaller projects, Bill and his team capitalize on sustainable practices whenever possible. When the Brick Building needed a new roof, he found a vendor willing to re-roof using 70 percent of the existing slate, instead of buying new. When PNA’s hot meal partner Crown Lutheran Church was demolished, he got them to donate their industrial appliances and sink for the Blue Building’s kitchen.

PNA staff Michel Broili was already an expert in the field of rainwater harvesting when he spearheaded a project to bring rain-flushed toilets to the Blue Building. With donated time and expertise from a number of folks, including the City of Seattle and King County, the group built a system that stores over 8,000 gallons of rainwater. This water is used to flush the two main toilets in all but the driest months. When rains return, the system switches back on.

Last summer, another conservation project brought a lot of attention to the Phinney Center, when Seattle City Light installed a 78.4 kw solar energy system on the roofs of the Blue Building and the Woodland Park Zoo. With its program Community Solar, City Light installs community systems and converts energy savings into electricity bill rebates for City Light customers who buy a solar unit in the project. 

The partnership was perfect for PNA. “It’s a way for our neighbors to support solar energy without having to have the perfect roof or access to engineering themselves,” says Bill. “So it’s a natural fit with our values.”

Sustainability is a word that’s thrown around a lot these days, and at the PNA, it means stewarding our environment and our neighborhood as a community at every available opportunity—through our own conservation initiatives or through programs that help neighbors to fix instead of throw away, borrow a tool instead of buy new, or take a class on harvesting rain to flush their toilets.

The PNA Fixers Collective meets every first Wednesday at 6 pm at Greenwood Hardware. For more information and for PNA Tool Library hours, visit

Then PNA Director of Facilities Bill Fenimore had electric car charging stations installed in the Blue Building’s parking lot.

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