The power to ‘net zero’

Columbia Springs Life Science Center, to break ground next year, will try to capture power at every turn

The Columbia Springs Life Science Learning Center will offer more than fish and wildlife.

The building, designed by Miller/Hull of Seattle and LSW of Vancouver, will be a lesson in sustainability.

The 13,000-square-foot facility is designed as the first "net zero" public building in the United States. Net zero means the building will produce more energy than it consumes, with the excess energy returning to the grid.

Already, the project is creating a buzz in the build green design community. Miller/Hull has been invited to present the project at the U.S. Green Building Council’s 2007 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo Nov. 7 to Nov. 9 in Chicago.

When finished in the fall of 2009, the learning center will host thousands of students each year from the Evergreen School District and other school districts.

"We wanted it to be different from anything they had experienced at their schools – something that would stimulate their minds at every turn," said Ted Stubblefield, co-chairman of the learning center design team. "It should be a model for unique natural resource education for our youth."

Stubblefield is a former forest supervisor with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and a natural resource consultant. He is also on the board of the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center.

Construction on the $13 million project is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2008 and be complete a year later.

Key elements of the net zero design include roof-mounted solar panels and micro-hydro turbines that use water run-off from roof tops, springs, creeks and other site drainage areas.

Stubblefield said it is designed to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design’s platinum level.

The 3.5-acre development will be part of a 114-acre campus that includes the Upper and West Biddle lakes. The center itself will be on West Biddle Lake. The property is co-owned by the city of Vancouver and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. The project will be owned by the Evergreen School District and run by the nonprofit Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center.

The new center will have underwater windows to view an existing fish hatchery, as well as research tanks, individual and group research spaces and a large outdoor "fish theater." It will also have labs, a resource library and conference space and improved wetlands.

Additional green features are:

• One side of the building is a glass wall that opens and recedes into the ceiling, creating ample daylight.

• Thermal collectors in the lake that help with cooling and warming at different seasons.

• A green roof, planted with low lying shrubs/grasses that provide insulation and treat stormwater.

• Salvaged milled trees and rock from the site will be used as siding, doors, benches and stone walls.

• Waterless urinals and minimal-usage toilets and low flow fixtures throughout.

• Impervious surfaces will be reduced through the use of low-impact (crushed rock and wood chip) trails and pervious pavers.

• Thermal imaging and air-leak testing is part of building envelope construction analysis.

Designers and members of the Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center Foundation Board met in the last year to hash-out the sustainable elements of the facility, according to Stubblefield.

"Once we fully engaged the engineers on hydro and solar energy consumption and told them we wanted state-of-the-art applied on site, it was then that they came up with the possibility of using micro-hydro technology and capturing power every place on site where we could have more than a two-foot drop in water flow," he said. "We directed them to max it out to see what we might come up with."

Dean Sutherland, foundation board co-chairman, said the sustainability focus grew as they got farther into the project. "As the design work began coming together, having the first net zero building in the U.S. emerged as a possibility."

Sutherland and the board worked with community members to determine what they wanted in the new learning center. The 1938 fish hatchery was closed by Fish and Wildlife in 1997, but local community groups rallied to get it re-opened and renovated.

The new building will be a "teaching tool," he said. "On a global level, we are looking for how we can stir minds of children, so they have an interest in life science and get into employment in life sciences. These kinds of life science learning centers provide great foundational training for students."

"This is also a site that will be used in lieu of overnight field trips that are expensive and not without risk for children and the schools," added Stubblefield.

Adin Dunning, a project manager with Miller/Hull Partnership, said the center and park are perfectly placed.

"What’s great is how urban the setting really is," he said. "It’s just this little forest in the middle of Vancouver. The [center’s] program is really compelling, with all the field trip activities happening there and the various ecosystems on the 114 acres."

Dunning’s familiarity with the site dates back to his youth. Growing up in Camas, Dunning visited the fish hatchery on field trips.

"It’s great to be able to help the facility and make that next step to become a greater community asset," he said.

Stubblefield said he expects the state Legislature will approve funding for the $13 million project. The center will be at 12208 N.E. Evergreen Highway, about eight miles east of downtown Vancouver.

Columbia Springs Life Science Learning Center Project Team

Owner: Evergreen School District

Manager: Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center

Architect: The Miller/Hull Partnership

Associate architect: LSW Architects

Civil engineer/aquatics research: TetraTech/KCM

Landscape architect: Walker Macy

Structural engineer: Quantum Consulting Engineers

Mechanical/electrical engineer: Interface Engineering

Sustainability: O’Brien and Co.

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