Photo courtesy of Oak Point Associates
Rendering by C&S Companies, Inc.
“Green” buildings, a natural choice
As a natural resource agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) should model the way for “green” government. By embracing the principles of sustainable design, the National Wildlife Refuge System strives to meet the agency’s need for new facilities while leaving a light footprint on the lands the Service manages.
"It just makes sense that the Service should use environmentally sustainable practices in building construction, maintenance and management,” says Liz Dawson, architect and energy coordinator for the Service’s Northeast Region.
To this end, engineers in the region developed a suite of eco-friendly designs for new buildings that have become standard throughout the National Wildlife Refuge System. Over the last decade refuges have built a number of green buildings in the Northeast that embody the natural resource conservation mission in their physical construction.
One facility received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification by the U.S. Green Building Council and others achieved Energy Star designations by the Environmental Protection Agency.
These energy-efficient buildings have helped reduce energy consumption in the region by over 10 percent since 2003. Being green is a natural choice for the Service.
A tale of trash and toilets
The Service's northeast region kicked off the new millennium by building a sustainable facility at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Cusano Environmental Education Center boasts energy efficient lighting, heating and cooling systems, and a “marsh machine greenhouse” that uses waste water to flush the building’s toilets.
The environmental center’s flooring is made from used tires, and the planks for its deck were once plastic bottles.
“One person’s garbage becomes another’s building supplies, proving that the city dump doesn’t have to be the end of the line for our trash,” says Dawson.
Geothermal energy from deep in the earth is used to heat and cool the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center built in 2003 at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Materials used in its floors and ceilings include recycled tires, and cork and bamboo, which are fast-growing renewable resources. The center’s roof is made of recycled zinc, and filtered water from its bathrooms feeds native plantings outside.
The choice to build green comes with the challenge of using relatively new technology. The geothermal heating system installed at the Bateman Center, for example, had to be fixed. Following the repair, the refuge reported a 26-percent reduction in energy use from the previous year.
At Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Massachusetts, “there are times we get 100-percent of our electricity from the solar panels on the building,” says Refuge Manager Graham Taylor. A new 32-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system was recently added to the visitor center and administrative headquarters that was built in 2004. So far the panels have prevented the emission of an estimated 37,000 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Frank Drauszewski, deputy refuge manager at Parker River, says that the switch from the old headquarters to the new energy-efficient, 20,000-square-foot center “has been like night and day. It offers a lot more for our visitors.”
The Kettle Pond Visitor Center in Charlestown, Rhode Island, houses a visitor center and offices for four Service programs, including the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, and a non-profit refuge friends group. It includes features found in many of our green buildings such as geothermal wells, natural lighting and recycled materials.
Local rocks were used in the Rhode Island center’s façade, and asphalt removed from former military runways at Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge was recycled and used as bedding for its roads.
Built in 2005 on the shore of Vermont’s Lake Champlain, the visitor and administrative center at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is a “showcase for renewable energies,” says Refuge Manager Mark Sweeny.
He praises the building’s “outstanding insulation system.” The windows are oriented to maximize exposure to sunlight, gathering solar warmth in winter. And, a geothermal cooling system pumps 50 degree water from below the Earth’s surface through the building to cool it during the summer months.
A single 80-foot-tall, 10-kilowatt wind turbine next to the building and solar panels on its roof generate more than 30-percent of the energy Sweeny needs to run the building.
The new headquarters and visitor facility at the Nulhegan Basin Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge in Vermont opened its doors in 2006. This building is LEED certified and became the first in the Service to receive ENERGY STAR designation for its superior energy performance.
Two years later, the new center at Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge in West Virginia was also recognized as an ENERGY STAR building and was named the 2009 environmental leadership refuge of the year by the Service. It uses significantly less energy – about 28 percent – than many buildings similar in size.
And, our future is looking even greener
New green buildings are scheduled to open soon at two additional national wildlife refuges, and groundbreaking for a third will occur this spring.
Steve Atzert, refuge manager of E.B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey will open the doors to the refuge’s new visitor contact station in the spring of 2010. The 23,000-square-foot building was designed to maximize energy-efficiency.
A solar panel on its roof will warm water that will be pumped into a radiant floor heating system, which is much more efficient and cost-effective than traditional systems such as forced hot air or baseboard heat. Two additional solar panels will provide electricity for the building.
But more than just being environmentally friendly, the building will improve the refuge’s visitor services. “It’ll be great,” said Atzert. “We’re hoping to have it open seven days a week with the help of volunteers. This project not only reduces our carbon-footprint, it increases our ability to reach people.”
The new energy-efficient building at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Sudbury, Massachusetts, will also open in 2010. The visitor center will serve the Eastern Massachusetts National Wildlife Refuge Complex, consisting of eight refuges in the Greater Boston area.
With $9.775 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, the Service will construct a new 12,500-square-foot energy-efficient building at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley, New York. It will serve as a visitor center and headquarters for the nine national wildlife refuges on Long Island.
Located in the shadows of New York City, the center will be within an hour’s drive of more than 7.5 million people. It is slated to open in 2011.
Story by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intern Michael Gardner.