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Last Beam Raised on New Frick Environmental Center

The original Frick Environmental Center was lost in a five-alarm fire 13 years ago, but on Friday, workers placed the final beam on top of the new education facility that is being called “one of the greenest buildings on Earth.”

The $10.5 million center is expected to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, the highest possible designation, as well as a Living Building Challenge title, which requires the use of non-toxic building materials and measures water and energy consumption after construction is completed.

In March, the Phipps Conservatory’s Center for Sustainable Landscapes was the seventh building in the world to receive the Living Building designation. The new Frick Environmental Center would become the ninth.

The facility is designed to be a net-zero energy building, meaning the energy it uses is roughly equal to the energy it produces. Sixteen geothermal wells, each 500 feet deep, will use consistent underground temperatures to heat and cool the building, while solar panels in the parking lot will generate electricity, according to Meg Cheever, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

“Also, the water, except for the potable water, is going to be processed on site,” Cheever said. “So, these are challenges that have been really interesting for the design team to work through, but it’s going to be a great teaching tool for the community.”

The building will include several classrooms, office space, a public living room, as well as an outdoor amphitheater and is expected to be completed by 2016.

Cheever said she’s most excited for local children and staff members to have a place to call their own. Since the original building was burnt down, staff members have been working out of rented trailers on the property.

“There are probably 1,500 kids a year, between school programs and summer camps, going through educational programs here in Frick Park with our staff,” Cheever said. “And the staff is working out of trailers while they do that. But, since the main point is being in the park, the kids are having a great time and learning a lot.”

Crews will plant 7,000 native trees and plants in the area, as well landscaping the four acres surrounding the new facility. The project will cost about $18.4 million, according to Marijke Hecht, director of Education with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.

“In the design phase we may be paying a little bit more and certainly during some of the materials vetting because we have to be sourcing things locally,” she said, “but we feel like that additional investment is really the right thing to do for the environmental and also for the economy of our local region.”

The city of Pittsburgh contributed about $6 million toward the project through the Frick Trust, while another $6 million has come from the public. Still, another $6 million needs to be raised to complete the project, according to Cheever, who said she’s continuing to put her faith in the public fundraising community.

“If the money is slower than expected in coming in, it will delay the project,” she said, “but we’re determined to get this done one way or the other.”

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."