[Masthead] Overcast ~ 41°F  
High: 54°F ~ Low: 43°F
Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

$7.7m Nature Center goes 'green'

Monday, June 28, 2004

Green roof' innovation

The Little Storm Lake Interpretive Center will not only celebrate and educate on nature - it will become an integral part of it.

"We plan to prove to the community and to the country that you can create a development in nature without ruining the nature," said Justin Yarosevich, city staffer working with the Storm Lake Project AWAYSIS destination park program. "This will be an incredibly environmentally-friendly building."

The proposed design for the site was released this week. The two-story, $7.7 million nature center is to be triangular shaped, the entrance located in what is now the city's snowpile area and the wide curving glass end backing into the waterfront woodland preserve at Little Storm Lake. A sweeping observation deck will run long the lakefront side, a long observation pier extending far out into the wetland.

Inside, the 3,700 square-feet facility will feature cutting-edge interactive displays attuned to the local environmental issues - from the glacial formation of Storm Lake to clean-energy wind power, to a massive model of the aquatic world below the surface of the wetland, to high-powered binocular stations for visitors to view the habitat around them up close and personal.

Museum-quality exhibits will focus on the establishment of trumpeter swans in the area, the breeding of walleye for sports fishing, the Storm Lake dredging project, the world of deep underground aquifers where the city's drinking water is filtered, the history of conservation in Iowa, and exhibits to encourage nature stewardship.

In the center of it all will be a state-of-the-art audio-visual nature theater, showing films specifically created for the Center's use - an attraction within an attraction. It will be flanked by classrooms and a "wet" laboratory, making the facility of educational use for everything from local elementary schools to advanced collegiate studies. A conference facility is also planned, and a space for traveling exhibits to be featured on an ever-changing basis.

A second story will have a feel of hanging unsupported in mid air, amid a flock of suspended bird exhibits.

The building will be as "green" as possible in its exterior and mechanical systems, too.

Skylights and exterior glass will bring in passive solar energy, while the native trees of the preserve cozy up to the exterior footprint, providing shading. Heat pumps replace traditional furnaces. A system will collect rain water runoff and recycle the water for the building's non-drinking uses. Rain gardens around the building will filter water of impurities before it runs to the lake or the wetland.

One of the most impressive features is to be the Center's "green roof."

Still rare in the United States, green roof structures have been used in Europe, especially Germany - with layers of green plants incorporated into an 8-12-inch thick roof deck, using a drip irrigation system to help the greens thrive. While more costly than a traditional roof, a green roof is projected to last twice as long, and serves to keep the building warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The roof blooming with green life will be a tourism attraction in itself, Project Awaysis developers feel. The Storm Lake development would probably tap an Illinois company that is pioneering in this unusual form of landscaping - the same company that created the green roof for the Chicago City Hall building that is attracting architectural attention nationwide.

One thing the Center won't have, Yarosevich said, is a bunch of animals in glass cages or fish in tiny tanks.

"The feeling is that if we really want to create an environmentally-friendly facility, we do not want to take live animals out of their natural habitat. Instead, we will use technology to bring them inside the center, such as webcams out in the wetland habitat that can broadcast into the Center," he said.

One of these camera sites might be the BV County Swan Restoration Project, on Highway 71, where a video camera could potentially be located to show the life cycle of a Trumpeter Swan.

The plan for the Center is the works of a dedicated committee of 12 members within the Destination Park group, which has logged many hours. The committee turned to Split Rock Studios of St. Paul, Minn., an internationally-known designer of unique and interactive museum exhibits that has outfitted many of the best known historical exhibits around the country in recent years, including the new Lewis & Clark Center in Sioux City.

Split Rock's concepts were then incorporated into a building design by David Ciaccio's landscape architecture firm out of Omaha - the same designer who created the original concept for the destination park.

The next step is funding.

The Center is projected at a cost of $7.7 million - $4.2 million for the building, $1.5 million for exhibits and a $2 million endowment to operate the facility in the longterm.

There will be no city taxpayer dollars put into the Little Storm Lake Interpretive Center, Yarosevich said. Plans call for a combination of federal dollars, private and corporate donations. "We are looking at about 50 different potential sources for funding for a facility that would be dedicated specifically to the environment," he said.

About the Exhibits

As an interactive museum, the Interpretive Center is designed to "teach through hands on activities, classes and exhibits that transport the visitor to locations that are otherwise unreachable," the committee said in its mission statement. "The goal of an interpretive center is not to answer questions but rather to create thinking and encourage visitors to go out into the world using what they have learned."

The center will feature a main exhibit area with 2500 square feet of exhibits that tell the story of the watershed from the formation of the land by glaciers to the present day species of animals that call the wetland home. Among the exhibits:

* An enlarged water column of silicone showing a cross section of the wetland and the life forms within that column. Visitors will look up to see the enlarged cattails and reeds sticking out above their heads attracting an oversized dragon fly.

* An interactive watershed table that will let visitors push a button to create a "rainstorm" illuminated by fiber-optic light. They will see how rain from a thunderstorm gets to the lake while picking up pieces of the land both naturally and unnaturally along the way.

* Because of Storm Lake's proximity to one of the nations largest wind energy farm, an interactive exhibit will allow visitors to position scale models of the local wind turbines and other landscape structures to try their own hand at creating the greatest amount of energy possible. They then will "flip the switch" to light up a scale model of the Storm Lake Community and see how far their energy goes.

* The observation dock will then allow visitors to walk out into Little Storm Lake to observe nature first hand. The second story observation deck will extend over the wetland from above. This observation deck will provide a great place to watch migrating birds that visit the area year round as well as a great place to experience the full effects of nature throughout the year. Included along both the dock and the second story observation deck will be interactive exhibits that help to educate visitors.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: