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When new clients visit NEADS, they’re beginning a life-transforming experience.

The non-profit organization (also known as National Education for Assistance Dog Services or Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans) trains service dogs for people that are deaf and disabled, bringing them newfound independence that can dramatically change the way they interact with the world.

The two-week campus-based training program that matches clients with their dogs can be a surprising, challenging process. So when the organization built a new client house on its Princeton, Massachusetts, campus to expand its living area and training capacity, it was important for the building to feel warm and welcoming. To achieve the home-like New England farmhouse feel the organization desired, NEADS and architect William Masiello relied on the consistent and comfortable performance of propane space heating, water heating, and fireplaces.

Reliability required

The special needs of the organization’s clientele made stable and reliable heating an essential requirement, says Gerry DeRoche, CEO of NEADS. “There’s a wide variety of people coming, and we don’t always know what their complete medical condition is going to be,” he explains. “So we have to make sure that we have consistent and quality climate control.”

NEADS – Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans

The home-like farmhouse that houses NEADS clients offers a warm, welcoming, and reliably comfortable environment with propane space heating, water heating, and fireplaces.

With no natural gas available in this part of Massachusetts, Masiello specified a propane-fueled furnace and storage tank water heater for the home’s space and water heating. “Gas definitely is reliable: clean, stable for heat and water,” he says. “You can get modulating capacity controls, and outdoor reset controls help with the comfort and efficiency.”

Affordability and energy efficiency were also important considerations for a non-profit seeking to maximize its resources. “Gas is just so much more efficient, and the operating cost is better than electric or oil,” Masiello says. “The engineer said the savings would be around 35 to 40 percent overall annually, so that’s definitely a plus. It definitely will help reduce costs in the long run and allow funds to be used for other things in the building, for other kinds of programs.”

A propane fireplace in the living room was an important part of the home design. “The hearth is a central location where people can gather,” Masiello says. “It gives them some comfort. Fire also can have a very calming and therapeutic effect with people.”

Masiello also built in flexibility to install a propane standby generator at a later date. “If they’re working for a few days with a dog, and we have some type of blizzard or hurricane that is going to knock out power for a few days, these people don’t really have any place to go,” Masiello says. “Having that generator to allow them to continue programming and also have heat and cooling, it just made a lot of sense. They don’t want to have the stress of dealing with lack of power issues.”

A friendly setting

For an organization that’s perceived as an asset to Princeton, and is one of the community’s largest employers, relocating to an area with access to natural gas was never a consideration. NEADS grew out of a successful experiment at a junior college in Lennox, Massachusetts, and moved to its current bucolic campus in greater Worcester 20 years ago.

“The town’s been good to us, and they were extremely supportive with what we wanted to do,” DeRoche says. “And we have relatively easy access for clients to get here. The campus is very quiet. It’s a pastoral setting.”

Today, NEADS trains service dogs to perform about 50 different tasks: responding to a door bell or dropped keys for a deaf client, unloading a dryer or switching on the lights for a disabled client, and even picking up a credit card from the floor, a task that’s difficult for most humans.

While the Princeton facilities served the organization well for 20 years, capacity was limited to just four bedrooms and one training area. NEADS expects to increase its client capacity by 50 percent over the next five years, so improving the organization’s ability to train and house clients is a high priority. The new client house will have seven accessible bedrooms, along with meeting rooms and a second training area.

Masiello found opportunities to make the new home’s design welcoming and hospitable, with a non-threatening scale and feel. “We oriented the kitchen, dining, and living space to the southeast corner to utilize some natural daylight, and that opens up to a landscaped courtyard,” Masiello says. “It gives you some acoustical barrier from the street, and also gives them a private oasis with the garden.”

The architect also met with previous clients to get feedback on the ergonomic function and accessibility requirements for the living space, a process that proved especially enlightening when noise from some landscape equipment near a window triggered panic in a veteran with PTSD. “It just gave us sensitivity to what their struggles are every day,” Masiello says.

The demand for service dogs has never been greater, so the facility’s expansion will allow NEADS to bring companionship and independence to an ever-growing population. That’s good news for people like a recent patient at the Boston Medical Center’s pediatric department who received a visit from Riley, a service dog. The patient had had enough of his treatment and didn’t want to get up until Riley’s owner asked if he would take Riley for a walk and some exercise. “And the young boy just jumped out of bed, walked Riley, came back, and he was a different kid,” DeRoche recalls. “He was good to go for the tests he had to do. The dog worked its wonders.”

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Jeffrey Lee