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Student Engineers Have Designs on Local Library

Sophomores (left to right) Johanna Pfeifer, Stephanie Erickson and Taylor Buono present their design plans to the Westhampton Library Friends building committee.

WESTHAMPTON, Mass. – The public library in the nearby town of Westhampton needs an addition, residents say. Although the public building is appreciated by the town’s bibliophiles, it’s too small, they complain, and operates like a convenience store: patrons enter, grab a book, and leave.

However, given the library’s location in a classic New England village center, residents did not want to arbitrarily tack on an addition. “Our little library is quaint and charming,” said Laurie Sanders, a member of the Westhampton Library Friends building committee. “We want to ensure that this new building, although energy efficient, does not look like it comes from another planet.”

Last semester, the building committee heard about an engineering course, taught by Paul Voss, assistant professor of engineering, on energy efficient designs. The committee sought out interested students from the course to analyze the library's initial plan and suggest changes to make the plan more “green.”

A trio of Smith College engineering students in the class—sophomores Johanna Pfeifer, Stephanie Erickson and Taylor Buono—responded.

The trio created three different models for the library’s planned 4,200-square-foot addition: a structure heated by solar energy, a structure heated by a furnace, and a structure heated by both a furnace and solar energy. And, they calculated the cost of heating each version.

For the young women, the project is a precursor to the sort of real-world challenge they will be assigned as seniors in a yearlong design clinic. Each year, teams of Smith senior engineers collaborate on projects with sponsors from industry and government organizations. Past projects have included designing a desktop computer that can withstand tropical conditions, a mobile hazardous materials treatment unit and a culvert for the restoration of a salt marsh in Dennis, Mass.

Smith’s Picker Engineering Program received accreditation in 2005, partly based on its success in requiring student engineers to apply their knowledge to real-world projects. Pfeifer, Erickson and Buono jumped at the chance to tackle a project early in their engineering education.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us, especially since we're only sophomores,” said Buono. “As we go through the next few years at Smith, we'll be able to watch the library go through its design and construction phases. With any luck, it will be built by the time we graduate!”

The student engineering team took their three design models to the Westhampton Fall Festival and discussed the various environmentally friendly aspects with town residents.

“At first it was hard to figure out exactly how much we needed to explain to any given person, but as the day went on, I think we were better at getting a feel for how much people knew,” said Erickson. “I think we got much better at explaining complex scientific processes in a way that people with little or no scientific background could understand.”

Both Pfeifer and Buono will continue working with the Westhampton Library Friends this spring. Currently, they have been asked to create topography designs so that the building committee can see exactly how the addition will look on site in the village center, said Sanders.

“In many ways, they are acting like a consultant on the project,” Sanders added. “We just assumed the Smith students would operate independently, without much oversight, and they have.”

And, like a consultant, the students have had to put their knowledge to use within the parameters set out by their client.

“By working on this project I realize how important it is for an architect to get an understanding of her client,” said Pfeifer. “They will be the ones who have to live with whatever we are creating.”


2/19/08   By Kristen Cole
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