In 2006, O'Brien & Company was selected by the Washington Energy Technology Center (now Innovate Washington) to conduct a strategic planning process for a Sustainable Energy Demonstration Lab (SEDL). As noted in our Final Report, The SEDL was intended to "foster the community’s knowledge of, and transition to, new energy saving technologies, with an emphasis on renewables."
The Lab is an element of the Environmental Education and Community Center (EECC) and Community Park, which opened with great celebration this past Saturday, September 24, 2011. It is always great fun to watch a dream unfold, so I was thrilled to get an invitation to the opening from The Friends of the Hidden River, a teacher-organized non-profit with whom we worked on the project. Lots of music, good food, public art, and perhaps most importantly, fun learning going on!
Early on, when the idea of a regional environmental education center was broached as mitigation for the Brightwater waste treatment facility, teachers from the region were adamant that in addition to covering water, the topic of sustainable energy should be part of the educational plan. "Everything is connected!" was a refrain heard over and over during the planning process for the SDEL, and making the connection between the water we use and treat and the energy system we consume to do that is indeed an important one.
Touring the EECC facility Saturday, I was pleased to see several elements of the SDEL in place. PV and Solar Hot Water Installations (funded by Snohomish County PUD) and related learning activities drew "students" of all ages, as did a solar oven and informational kiosks. Human operated bikes, artpieces in themselves, as well as electric vehicles, were in evidence on opening day to showcase green transportation modalities.
We anticipated in 2006 that the EECC facility would be a learning opportunity itself, and plans were to achieve LEED Gold Certification. Happily, (but perhaps not surprisingly given its constituents) the project team, including design firm Mithun, CH2MHill, the Project Managers at King County Wastewater Division as well as a host of others) blew past that goal to achieve LEED Platinum Certification. From our experience with LEED NC, this level of "green" would not have been possible without an aggressive approach to the Energy and Atmosphere Credits.
Two elements of the proposed Lab, an "Independence Hall" focused on promoting regional energy self-sufficiency, and an already-designed Energy Test Bed to test advanced emerging technologies are still awaiting funding, but a good foundation has been laid. Marie Hartford, with Friends of the Hidden River, is optimistic about these next steps. The group's grantwriter, Stephanie Hartford (yes, she's Marie's daughter!) has already enjoyed some success in gaining funding for the EECC and doesn't intend to stop.
Also, King County has indicated that if there is sufficient demand by teachers and schools to justify it, the County will work with the Friends on an addition to house Independence Hall on space that has already been provided adjacent to the new facility. The County has contracted with IslandWood to oversee the educational program at the EECC, and it's anticipated that this award-winning educational provider will ably grow regional demand.
While waiting for this next chapter of the story to unfold, it is well worth a trip to the Brightwater Campus if you live in or are visiting the Northwest. Besides the energy learning opportunities mentioned above, there are some absolutely fantastic displays and engagement activities teaching the what, why, and how, of waste water treatment, and ways to conserve water and maintain water quality at our homes and businesses. You can also chill out on over 40 acres of looping trails among restored natural settings and artwork.
Kathleen O'Brien is Founder of and Special Project Consultant for O'Brien & Company, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary as a green building and sustainability consultant. Kathleen attended the EECC's grand opening with Nora Daley-Peng, also of O'Brien & Company, who reviewed artwork for the site as an advisor to 4Culture, and her 4-year old son, Ronan.
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