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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : July/August 2007 : Building

A Green Education
A Wisconsin nature center's sustainable building is teaching by example.

by Paul Von Paumgartten


The recent release of the Johnson Controls Energy Efficiency Indicator revealed that 60 percent of U.S. facilities plan on investing in energy efficiency building improvements over the next year. Most facilities are implementing measures that require little investment: training staff, adjusting HVAC controls and installing energy efficient lighting.

Some organizations, however, are going above and beyond to make their facilities green.

The Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, situated on 185 acres along the shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, WI, promotes an appreciation, understanding and stewardship of natural resources through environmental education and sanctuary preservation. The center’s board of directors began planning for the new green learning center, which opened in 2003, years in advance by putting benchmarks in place to measure the financial benefit of constructing a sustainable building.
“With our environmental mission in mind, we decided to walk the talk and build a sustainable and environmentally friendly facility,” said Elizabeth Cheek, the center’s executive director. “Working with donated funds means being answerable to those who donate them, and as a teaching facility, part of the project’s payback is using the greening process and the building itself as a learning tool.”

The center’s architects researched various resources for sustainable design, choosing the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program because of its measurement tools and benchmarks for monitoring long-term benefits. “After attending a LEED conference at Johnson Controls, I was impressed with and had a better understanding of the program,” Cheek said.

The Center selected the Metasys building management system to monitor and control the facility’s energy-consuming systems, including HVAC and lighting. The system enables a variety of energy saving measures, such as installing magnetic locks on windows that disengage when natural ventilation is preferred. When a window opens, the system automatically shuts down the HVAC in that zone, saving energy.

The Metasys system also controls a series of heat pumps and heat recovery units associated with a geothermal system. The center draws energy from 90 groundwater wells and the earth’s temperature to provide heating and cooling, lessening dependence on fossil fuels.

Other green, energy saving features of the building include the extensive use of natural light. The center’s specially designed and placed window systems reduce energy needed for lighting, and a 12-kilowatt photovoltaic solar power system supplies a significant portion of the building’s electricity. A low-flow plumbing system reduces water usage.

The new 35,000-square-foot learning center provides much needed space for classrooms, an enlarged auditorium, new exhibits, a nature store, improved access for individuals with disabilities and a nature preschool—the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

The center offers public tours and seminars demonstrating the sustainable features of the building and holds sustainability classes for high school and junior high school students. The center even weaves the importance of protecting the environment into its preschool classes. Local universities use the facility as a learning tool for future architects.

Because of its commitment to sustainability, the center was awarded a LEED Gold rating. “We already have visions of achieving the Platinum rating under the LEED for Existing Buildings program,” said Cheek.


Paul Von Paumgartten is the director of energy and environmental affairs at Johnson Controls Inc.

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