Indian Creek Nature Center aims for rare sustainable building certification

Plan is for 11,500 square foot nature center to be completed in 2016

Published: December 3 2013 | 7:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:23 am in
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If the plans for a new learning center at the Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids go forward as envisioned, the building could be one of only a handful of “Living Building Challenge” certified buildings worldwide.

The “Living Building Challenge,” created by the International Living Future Institute, certifies buildings that are not only completely sustainable, but that are designed and constructed to have a positive, rather than negative impact on the environment.

The building must be “net-zero energy” certified, meaning it produces all needed energy onsite. Along with other criteria in 20 categories, it must integrate a sustainable water system and use certain building materials, such as responsibly-sourced wood that must be harvested near the building site.

So far, only four buildings worldwide have met the certification, with over 160 working toward certification.

The 290-acre Indian Creek Nature Center in the state’s only privately-owned and managed non-profit nature center. Executive director John Tyler said the certification goal, however ambitious, goes to the heart of the center’s mission.

“We want to be an example for contractors, construction personnel and businesses in the entire state that how you can build a building that is cost effective and still makes a positive impact for the environment,” he said.

The nature center, currently still in the planning phase, will feature a geothermal heating and cooling system, solar panels on the roof and a rainwater harvesting system, among other innovations.

The building is planned as a replacement for Indian Creek’s current nature center, a dairy barn built in 1932. The building has poor heating, no air conditioning, no handicap access and is no longer able to adequately accommodate the center’s 40,000 annual visitors, Tyler said. The 2008 flood also shifted its foundation and reinforced the need for an upgrade.

Tyler said though construction costs for the new building may be higher than they would be for a conventionally designed building, the savings down the road will go toward offsetting that invest. A zero dollar energy bill for years into the future is no small change, after all.

There are also grants and tax incentives to help with green building, he said.

The building is part of a ten year master campus plan for the nature center. Other parts of the plan, which is still being developed, include outdoor shelters, an eagle viewing platform on the Cedar River and a butterfly hoop house. The Center is currently raising funds for the project through a $6.5 million capital campaign. That money will also fund an endowment to cover future operating costs for the center.

Tyler said the plan is for the 11,500 square foot nature center to be completed in 2016. Solum Lang Architects has been selected as the lead architect for the project.

He said he hopes the new space will be beautiful as well as functional, and will encourage people to explore the natural beauty beyond the center’s walls.

“There’s a culture right now that a lot of people are scared to go into nature in-depth because they did not grow up with it,” he said. “We have to be able to overcome those fears.”

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