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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nature Center planning is on

Monday, January 21, 2008

It's back to the beginning to lay groundwork for Little SL development

Discussions have resumed on the possibility of building a Storm Lake Watershed Interpretive Center, several years after the project had first been approached as a part of the AWAYSIS development.

The effort is back in the beginning evaluative stages, according to Jeff Kestel, a Storm Lake environmentalist who had served on the initial group to plan for the nature center. It had been put on the back burner for the last couple of years to allow other AWAYSIS efforts to be completed without competition for attention.

"We are picking it up again, and there are some things happening," Kestel said of the Interpretive Center plan.

About half a dozen people who have been involved with the project are meeting again as the core of a committee to pursue the project.

"At this stage, we are being pretty quiet, just trying to get the framework of the organization put together and to make sure that everything that had been looked at earlier will work," Kestel said.

Little Storm Lake wetland preserve area is still seen as the ideal location, but Kestel said his group will need to backtrack to make sure that the project will fit at the site.

No timeline has yet been determined for construction, and at present, there is no funding committed, but Kestel feels that community support for the project remains rooted.

A plan was first drawn for the building in 2004, by David Ciaccio, the landscape architect behind the entire AWAYSIS development. Proposed exhibits were drawn up by Split Rock Studios of St. Paul, Minn., an internationally-known designer of unique and interactive museum exhibits, which is known locally for its work with the Lewis and Clark Museum in Sioux City.

Cost was estimated at $7.7 million in 2004 dollars - $4.2 million for the building, $1.5 million for exhibits and a $2 million endowment to operate the facility in the longterm.

The proposed design for the site showed a two-story, 3,700 square-feet facility with a wide, curving glass end backing into the waterfront woodland and a sweeping observation deck along the lakefront side.

Inside would be 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.

It would not be a collection of animals in glass cages. "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," according to Justin Yarosevich, of the Storm Lake city staff.

Among the project's supporters has been Senator Chuck Grassley, who said earlier that it would be "an important project" to provide hands-on learning experiences to encourage Iowans to protect their habitat.

According to the Project AWAYSIS web site, the Interpretive Center would serve as a place for people of all ages to participate in environment learning, enjoyment and activities.

The site indicates it will be constructed as "part of a future phase of Project AWAYSIS."

Ideas that had been discussed include a state-of-the-art audio-visual nature theater, showing films specifically created for the Center's use; a "wet" laboratory and classroom, making the facility of educational use for everything from local elementary schools to advanced collegiate studies; a small conference facility; gift shop; space for traveling exhibits to be featured on an ever-changing basis; and video monitors attached to cameras that coupls be located out in the wetland and places like the trumpeter swan pond. Overhead, a second story was planned to have a feel of hanging unsupported in mid air, amid a flock of suspended bird exhibits.

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

Skylights and exterior glass would 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 planned was 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.

Among the exhibits originally proposed:

* 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.

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