Walking Mountains leading by example with building efforts
New employee housing project kicks off this week at Avon campus
AVON — Within its walls, Walking Mountains Science Center’s campus hosts camps, events and initiatives that aim to inspire environmental stewardship and sustainability.
During those events, participants need to look no farther than the walls themselves for inspiration.
“We definitely integrate the science behind our buildings with our curriculums,” said Markian Feduschak, president of Walking Mountains.
The buildings of the Avon campus are built to high standards of sustainability, making them some of the most energy-efficient structures on the Western Slope.
The original campus is the valley’s only LEED Platinum certified facility.
The recently completed Borgen Precourt Center for Sustainability is a “net zero” building, which means it creates more energy than it uses over the course of a year.
This week, Walking Mountains is breaking ground on another building project, one that will embody sustainability in a few ways.
The project is two 2,400-square-foot employee housing buildings, each with six bedrooms, six bathrooms and shared kitchen and living spaces. The buildings are expected to be completed in June.
The project aims to be net zero as well, with a highly efficient building envelope and solar panels on the roof that produce energy.
Brian Sipes of Sipes Architects, who designed the housing project and was the lead architect for the original campus buildings, said he hopes to see these energy-efficient building techniques spread to other projects in the valley.
“That’s what excites me is to try to change that paradigm in the valley to try to say we can build better,” Sipes said. “And if you do so, you save your costs long-term, because affordable housing is not about just the initial cost, it’s the ongoing costs as well.”
Programs can grow
The project also will help Walking Mountains be sustainable in providing the workforce for its programs. The project will house interns that work in its naturalist programs — at places like the Vail Nature Center and the Nature Discovery Center on Vail Mountain. It will also house graduate fellows, who are graduate students working toward master’s degrees in science education through a University of Northern Colorado program.
The new housing will allow Walking Mountains to increase the number of graduate fellows, as well as keep the interns all year long. Now, it has 12 in the summer but only five in the winter because of housing constraints.
A gift from the family foundation of Pete and Pat Frechette, who were Beaver Creek homeowners and have generously funded several community endeavors, will fund the majority of the housing project. Pete and Pat Frechette both passed away in the last few years, but their generosity lives on through their family foundation.
The project will be called the Pete and Pat Frechette Educator Community.
Their gift was part of $25 million that has been raised for Walking Mountains’ capital campaigns over the last 15 years.
The $11 million Buck Creek campus opened in 2011 and includes a visitor center, administrative offices and classrooms. That campus is certified at the platinum level, the highest level under the LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, program. LEED certified buildings must meet certain standards to demonstrate that the building maximizes people’s health and productivity while using fewer resources, creating less waste and minimizing bad effects on the environment.
The 7,800-square-foot Borgen Precourt Center opened earlier this year, with a long list of donors, but, above all, the two families whose names are attached to the building. It is net zero and is aiming for LEED Silver certification.
Hans Berglund, of Berglund Architects, designed the building. Berglund’s firm began donating to Walking Mountains in 2006, and he served on the group’s board for eight years.
He jumped at the chance to help Walking Mountains make the building a reality.
His design was able to make the building very energy efficient — utilizing high-performing insulation as well as efficient lighting, windows and mechanical systems — while maximizing the amount of solar panels on the roof.
Advances in technology are making it easier to be net zero, or close to net zero, Berglund said.
“It’s much more achievable than it used to be,” Berglund said. “It probably takes a client that decides it’s important for them to be prioritizing their budget toward achieving that. But in the long run, it’s a phenomenal return on investment.”
The new facilities help Walking Mountains reach more and more people each year in its science education efforts.
When it started in 1998 as Gore Range Natural Science School, the group’s programs reached 900 people. Last year, that number was 200,000.
Fifteen years ago, the group’s annual operating budget was $400,000. It is now at $3.7 million, with about 65% coming from fundraising and 35% from various program fees.
The organization is well-positioned to keep leading the community toward sustainability — and, the case of its buildings, leading by example.
“If you think about our mission and the environmental issues that we’re facing today, there’s never been a time when our mission has been more relevant,” Feduschak said. “Through our community education and sustainability initiatives, we can do something meaningful to actually be stewards, if you will, and to live our lives in more sustainable ways.”
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