The Environmental Education Center (EEC) represents a new standard of local government’s commitment to lead by example in providing an interactive, hands-on environmental education experience for its residents. Plano’s progressive action-oriented mission both incubates and supports its transformation into a more sustainable community. Their approach, commitment of resources and enthusiasm for environmental sustainability establishes the City of Plano as the standard-bearer in the Dallas Fort Worth area. Since its opening, the EEC serves as the venue for many community events and educational programs, while drawing ample attention from regional media and inspiring residents from Texas and beyond. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recognized the EEC with its highest certification: LEED Platinum.
The EEC was conceived as a sustainable, environmentally-responsible learning center to meet the City of Plano’s need for a facility showcasing green building technology, while providing residents with expanded educational programming about sustainability and the environment. The building and site provide a springboard to discuss many sustainability issues and encourage interactive participation. Visitors and volunteers learn to monitor the temperature of the solar-heated water, track the energy generated by 54 photovoltaic solar panels, and calibrate the consumption of cistern-harvested rainwater to support the toilets, urinals and landscaping.
Conceptually the building was to be restorative, ecologically low impact, and feature net zero water and energy consumption. Studies were undertaken to model and optimize the site orientation of the building, in addition to guiding wall and roof system design. From this process evolved a simple and elegant design which integrates highly functional and efficient operational components.
Lighting and mechanical systems exhibit higher efficiencies and better controls while providing an exceptional level of comfort and fresh air. Strategically placed glazing and thermal massing reduce the impact of intense Texas summer sun and heat, while harnessing the benefits of daylighting.
Interior finishes are simple and durable. Sustainable materials - such as stained concrete floors fabricated with fly ash diverted from coal-fired energy plants and locally manufactured terrazzo floors and wall panels containing glass reclaimed from the City’s waste stream - are playfully and extensively featured throughout the building. Virtually nothing went to the landfill during the EEC’s construction and the facility’s operation generates essentially no solid waste.
Preserving and restoring one of the last stretches of natural creek was critical to the success of the project. With critical concerns about regional water usage, systems were integrated into the site’s design ensuring water reduction, collection and retention. The landscape responds with a design restoring natural habitat to introduce a biologically diverse wilderness into an urban setting.
Prior to the EEC’s completion, the site was an educational demonstration garden. Through the efforts of dedicated staff and volunteers, the garden flourished with xeriscape plantings, showcased backyard composting techniques, and featured a butterfly garden.
Plant selections represent indigenous, drought/heat tolerant varieties which are interesting in form, texture and color. As a demonstration garden, the landscaping features plants appropriate for use in a typical neighborhood yard. A living roof covers roughly half of the facility. The roof includes only native plants in order to provide habitat, filter storm water and recreate a living mantle. These plants stealthily introduce native seeds to the surrounding overly-manicured domestic landscapes. Rainwater is collected from the roof via a cistern, and then reintroduced to support the landscape. Also, this greywater supplies flushing fixtures in the restrooms. Consequently, all storm water is retained on site and only a natural flow of filtered storm water enters the creek.
Every decision, every action and every design feature was collaboratively chosen to purposely create a facility which exemplifies and underscores environmental responsibility.
The EEC features innovations in function, operation and construction. The structure’s building materials include Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) walls for thermal mass and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP) for rapid installation. Decreased potable water usage and innovative wastewater reduction strategies are supported by a 24,000+ gallon rainwater harvesting system integrated in the design to collect all roof water runoff. The collected water provides source water for toilets and urinals, as well as irrigating the living roof and supporting the surrounding landscape. On-site renewable energy sources provide an estimated 30 percent of the building’s annual electrical consumption.
The EEC’s high-tech building science saves energy and provides inspired examples for residents, commercial businesses and builders to duplicate. Ultimately, regional air quality improves with a decrease in energy demands, along with the related pollutants in generating power. The highly-effective thermal-mass application of ICF and SIP building components, coupled with the passive solar design, allows the EEC to be extremely energy efficient. On-site renewable energy sources further offset energy demands, pollutants and resources. Water quality is improved by eliminating storm water runoff. Rainwater is collected for non-potable uses, filtered and reintroduced to the adjoining creek through permeable surface areas.
The EEC’s success is measured on several aspects:
- 46,171 renewable kWh’s generated
- 46.5 percent of grid-based kWh’s used
- 88 percent positive user comfort rating
- 24% potable water use
•Demand and Participation Levels in Environmental Education Programing
- 124 actual classes held
- 1,647 participants
- 4 rentals by outside groups
3,319 visitors and registered visitors
•Annual Recycling Rate