New Frick Environmental Center will make quite a splash
On rainy and warm days, the new Frick Environmental Center will become a sort of free waterpark where people can play in nature.
The ultra-green center, now under construction, will collect water from rain and melting snow through its downward-slanting roof. Water will flow off the roof and down the slopeside concrete staircase, and pool in the wetlands below. This will create a cascading waterfall along the side of the building that visitors can enjoy. Kids can splash around and enjoy the water.
“You really have to be here when it’s raining to get the full impact,” says Marijke Hecht, director of education for Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
The water setup is just one of the ways the Squirrel Hill center, set to open by the end of 2016, is meeting the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
The site has a 15,000-gallon cistern that harvests rainwater, a steel-support structure made with regional steel, a concrete amphitheater, on-site sewage treatment, solar-only electricity, locally sourced black locust wood, a thermal-building envelope to improve insulation and geothermal drilling. Buried in the dirt surrounding the center are 18 geothermal wells that tap into the consistent 55-degree temperatures 520 feet underground. This results in less need for heating and cooling inside, officials say.
At the three-story, 15,000-square-foot building — where the upper floor houses the reception area, living room and two classrooms — workers will use natural ventilation as much as possible, to minimize energy use.
The Frick Environmental Center’s main functions will be serving as a welcome center for the surrounding Frick Park, providing clean public restrooms and water fountains seven days a week. The center — which replaces the previous center that burned down in 2002 — will host environmental-educational programs open to the public.
“This project has been a long time coming,” Hecht says. “The vision now is to have this be a true regional hub for environmental education,” she says.
The building will function on Net Zero Energy, meaning it gives as much back to the grid as it takes. It’s the same with the water. The center uses 40 percent less energy than other buildings of this size and type in the Northeast, Hecht says. The City of Pittsburgh owns and operates the center, which is free for public use.
“Our primary strategy for energy is less energy use.”
Scott Roller, senior manager of marketing and communications for the conservancy, says the center will be “an incredible asset for everyone in our region.”
“It’s designed to be the world’s first Living Building and LEED Platinum building that will be open and free to the public, so the building itself — as well as the extensive environmental-education programming that will be offered — will be an ongoing resource for all to learn about our environment,” he says.
“That one of the most environmentally advanced buildings in the world will be free and open for everyone to experience is a wonderful thing for Pittsburgh,” Roller says.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.