New Frick Environmental Center designed to entertain, educate, conserve
There's a new attraction in town that could prove popular among nature-loving families on the hunt for educational outings — particularly on wet, cloudy days this fall.
Whenever it rains, an 80-foot-tall veil of water will cascade down a sloped roof and flow in sheets over the northern facade of the newly constructed Frick Environmental Center, creating a visual spectacle while pumping fresh rainwater into a garden and children's play area.
The so-called “rain veil” feature is among strategic design elements and artful touches with kids and the environment in mind that have gone into Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's construction of the center overlooking woodland trails in the northwest section of Frick Park, the city's largest at 115 acres. The three-story complex and surrounding facilities — a project of the city of Pittsburgh and nonprofit Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy — replace the former environmental center that burned to the ground on the about 3-acre site in 2002.
“It's all about understanding nature and being around nature, and so that's a main part of our design,” said Patricia Culley, project manager with Bohlin Cywinski Jackson architectural firm. “We're really celebrating water and wrapping it around the building. We're also encouraging you to go outside and play in that rain veil area.”
The center serves as a tangible example of the environmentally conscious practices and technologies the conservancy promotes. The 16,440-square foot center — with solar-powered carports and geothermal heating — collects as much energy as it uses, and meets the most rigorous environmental certification — “Living Building Challenge” — a step above LEED Platinum, Culley said.
Workers are installing interior furnishings and artwork this week at the new version of the center, which is set to open to the public with an all-day celebration Saturday.
Youngsters can opt to use the building's child-sized doors next to the standard ones at each entrance, check out nature kits with bug boxes and collecting tips and learn about widlife in bright, airy classrooms lined with irregularly spaced floor-to-ceiling windows that mimic the treelines of surrounding woodlands.
“No matter where you live, no matter what your economic background is, there is no cost to come into the Frick Environmental Center,” said Camila Rivera-Tinsley, hired as the conservancy's director of education as of July 1. “You're supposed to be able to enjoy nature no matter what walk of life you are.”
The facility and its classrooms will be used for programs offered to children in pre-kindergarten through high school at more than 20 schools, mostly within Pittsburgh Public Schools, Rivera-Tinsley said.
“Our parks make the best classrooms,” Rivera-Tinsley said.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.