The town of Warren wants to replace its existing Town Hall (above) with one that incorporates “green,” or environmentally friendly, elements.

Just to the west of Litchfield, cell phone reception gives out. The highways and suburban neighborhoods that give way to trees and lakes are 20 miles behind, and there are few other cars on the road.

About 12 miles farther west is one of the smallest towns in Connecticut. Warren, which has a population of less than 1,500, is home to a couple of shops, a cafe and some town buildings that lay spread out among the hills. No major highways run there. Most of the homes are set back from the roads and can barely be seen through the trees. They belong mostly to lifelong Warren residents and to families from New York who come up on weekends and in the summers.

But despite the secluded “old New England” feel of the community, its residents and leaders are hardly stuck in the past. Warren has been growing for the past few years, and members of the town government hope to accommodate that growth in the smartest way they know how. The first step is to build a new Town Hall, and to build it as “green” as they can.

“We are interested in an energy-efficient and aesthetically pleasing building,” said Nancy Scofield, a retired schoolteacher who serves on the town’s Building Committee. “It just seems to make sense.”

Green – or environmentally friendly – building was not widely understood just a few years ago, but its popularity has been growing year by year, according to Gwyn Jones of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“I think it’s safe to say that green building is not a fad. It’s here to stay,” she said.

Many green buildings these days are LEED – or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – certified. The certification has several levels, and can qualify buildings for federal and state incentives.

LEED certifications have grown steadily for the last few years, and some local and state governments have introduced legislation to promote green building. Last year, a bill was introduced in the state Senate that would require certain state-financed construction projects to meet or exceed the Silver LEED rating, which is the third-highest rating for high-performance sustainable buildings, after Platinum and Gold. The bill was put on the House’s calendar last June, but no further steps have been taken.

People across the country are becoming more aware of the benefits of green building, Jones said.

“It’s not only good for the environment,” she said. “Energy savings are very attractive … People want that. They want healthy buildings.”

The new Town Hall in Warren, because of its budget, will probably not be certified, but Scofield and other town leaders are hoping that the incorporation of some green-building innovations will help them save on energy costs and will make the building a healthier and more pleasant place for town workers.

‘A Postage Stamp’

The current Town Hall was built about 50 years ago and has served many purposes. It sits on the top of a hill and houses a gym with a stage on one end and a cafeteria. They were once used by schoolchildren who attended classes in the three-room schoolhouse nearby, but now there is a new school. The gym now is largely unused, but the cafeteria is rented out or used for community functions. It has seen “many a pancake [breakfast],” Scofield said.

The rest of the low brick building is taken up by offices, many of which house one too many desks. The town built an addition about 20 years ago, but it was a temporary solution for the needs of the growing town.

“It’s a postage stamp, really,” Scofield said.

One section of the Town Hall is encased in plastic sheeting, to keep it from leaking.

When it became evident that town employees need more space, the initial reaction was to renovate and add on to the Town Hall. But the site would not likely have allowed for the kind of additions necessary, so the Building Committee started thinking of other options.

“We went back to the drawing board and got thinking,” Scofield said.

The town owns a 61-acre lot down the road from the existing Town Hall, so the possibility of a new Town Hall came under consideration. The Building Committee presented two options to the town: Renovate the existing Town Hall, or build a new one and renovate the existing building into a community center. The townspeople recognized the need for more space, and voted for the second option.

“The need for more space seemed to be the selling point,” Scofield said.

So the Building Committee sent out a request for proposals, and the planning for the new Town Hall began.

Late last year, the town selected an architect – Ames & Whitaker of Waterbury – which presented ideas to the Building Committee last week.

“We haven’t gotten that far yet,” Scofield said. “It’s been slow.”

There is nothing concrete yet, but the architects have looked at the site and considered the position of the building with regards to the sun and terrain. The architects are in the schematic design phase, according to Alan Lagocki, the project architect from Ames & Whitaker. They are still waiting for the final word on the extent of wetlands on the site, so it is too early to tell what green elements might be incorporated into the building. But some possibilities could include an alternative energy system, such as a water-assisted heat pump and the use of passive solar energy. The building likely will be configured to take advantage of the natural sunlight and ventilation on the site, and the materials will probably be environmentally friendly and rapidly replaceable.

The town and architects also are looking into the future. The building may be the first step toward a larger town campus. Someday, the 61 acres owned by the town could hold other town buildings.

“They’re moving forward in an interesting direction,” Lagocki said.

Later this spring, after the plans become better defined, the Building Committee will present ideas to the town, Scofield said.