Science center earns gold ranking

The Alabama 4-H Environmental Science Education Center on Lay Lake has earned a major honor for its earth-friendly design.

The U.S. Green Building Council has labeled the building a gold LEED project. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The $5 million center opened in November 2007 and is the first 4-H facility in the country to earn gold certification. It’s also just the second building in Alabama to receive the honor. The other is at Auburn University.

“We’re very proud of our site. We’re able to show students firsthand the ways buildings can coexist with minimal impact on the environment,” said Tyler Gault, assistant manager of education and programming. “It’s a fantastic learning environment.”

Students from all over Alabama come to the center to learn about the environment and outdoor skills. But the building might be just as educational as the courses taught there.

“Designing this building to teach school children what a green building is and why that is important has been an exciting and rewarding challenge,” said Neil E. Davis, who was lead architect on the project.

A few ways the center teaches by example:

-All building materials are either recyclable or produced locally. Carpet is made from plastic bottles and slate, while some walls are Alabama sandstone. Laboratories feature concrete floors and cabinets created from wheat board.

-The center is energy efficient. Lights come on when someone walks into a room, tripped by motion sensors. The heating and cooling system works by measuring carbon dioxide, which people exhale when breathing or talking. The overhanging room maximizes natural light without heat gain or glare.

-Rainwater is used in bathrooms and in the fire sprinkler system. Water collected from the building’s roof is filtered and then stored in an 11,000-gallon tank and is used to flush all toilets in the building.

“A lot of concepts that go into these buildings are common sense,” said Gault. “It’s a little pricey, but it pays itself back over time.”