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Drilling in Frick Park mines heating source for new center

They’re drilling right now in Frick Park.

No, not the kind of extractive drilling done by the shale gas industry, but rather drilling that will create an energy-efficient geothermal heating and cooling system for the new Frick Environmental Center.

The geothermal system, using 16 wells, each 500 feet deep, will tap into consistent underground temperatures to reduce heating and cooling costs. It is just one of many “green” and innovative technologies, materials and construction methods that will be used to build and operate the center, now under construction just beyond the historic gatehouses at the Beechwood Boulevard park entrance in Squirrel Hill.

When construction is completed at the end of 2016, the $10.5 million environmental center will serve as a gateway to the 151-acre Frick Woods Nature Reserve, established on Earth Day 1991, as well as the entire 644-acre park, said Marijke Hecht, project manager and director of education for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

“This is a building designed to feel wild, designed to link neighborhoods to nature,” said Ms. Hecht, during a recent visit to the construction site. “It’s going to be a building that is not so much a destination as it is a pathway into the park.”

Built with locally sourced, non-toxic materials, the new building was designed by the architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, an early proponent of sustainable and organic design with an office in Pittsburgh. It will use 40 percent less energy than a similarly sized building and supply almost all of its power through solar panels.

A part of its parking lot will use permeable paving materials. Another part of the lot will be canopied to collect rainwater that will be used to supply the building’s toilets and irrigation system. All waste water will be filtered and treated on site.

The center will occupy the same “footprint” as the previous environmental center, which was built in 1979 and burned to the ground in 2002. Although it will have three floors, the structure will be built into the side of Clayton Hill, to show a low, more integrated profile to park visitors. And it will incorporate into its design one of two formal curved pathways that lead from the Beechwood Boulevard entrance gatehouses to a fountain.

Those historic features date to the 1930s park plan by John Russell Pope, then one of the nation’s most famous architects, who designed many famous public buildings in Washington, D.C., including the Jefferson Memorial.

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The new environmental center also will make its own history. It is expected to earn both a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, Platinum certification, the highest rating for sustainably designed and built buildings, and a Living Building Challenge designation.

The Living Building title is an even more rigorous, performance-based rating program for sustainable buildings than LEED. Administered by the Seattle-based International Living Future Institute, it not only requires non-toxic building materials and construction methods but measures building operation and water and energy use after construction is completed.

“It’s like LEEDs on steroids,” Ms. Hecht said.

Only eight buildings in the U.S. have been so certified, a short list that includes the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Oakland. The Frick Environmental Center would be the first building on the list that will be free and open to the public.

“For the building, the designations demonstrate a commitment by the city and the conservancy to both model the behavior they’re trying to accomplish with the environmental education center and show they are good stewards of places were people work and recreate,” said Mike Schiller, chief executive officer of the Green Building Alliance, a professional organization that promotes the greening of the region’s built environment.

Also significant, Mr. Schiller said, is that with the certification of the environmental center as a Living Building, Pittsburgh will join Seattle as the only cities with two such structures.

“It’s demonstrating Pittsburgh’s leadership and commitment to green building, sustainable building,” he said. “And there might be a third if Chatham University follows through on plans for building at the Falk School of Sustainablity on its Eden Hall Campus in the North Hills.”

Chatham opened its Eden Hall Campus in Pine in 2013 to house the Falk School of Sustainability.

Ms. Hecht said the new environmental center will be operated by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit formed in 1996 to undertake park restoration and improvements in partnership with the city. The building will contain classrooms for the conservancy’s environmental programming, conservancy offices, an assembly room and outdoor amphitheater.

Landscaping in the four acres around the building will involve planting more than 7,000 native tree and plant species. Total cost of the building and landscaping will be $18.4 million, with 65 percent of that secured Ms. Hecht said. Applications for additional state and regional funding are pending.

The conservancy conducts guided “hard-hat tours” around the construction site on the fourth Thursday of the month from April through October. The first tour of the season scheduled from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Pre-registration is required for all tours, and can be done on line at http://www.eventbrite.com/e/frick-environmental-center-public-hard-hat-tour-registration-16019222927.


This article was written by Don Hopey from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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