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EcoCenter a feat of environmental ingenuity

Views from the new tower at the soon-to-be-unveiled Swaner EcoCenter dumbfound even nature preserve officials.

"As you go up the tower you get increasingly changing perspectives in relation to adjacent development and how adjacent development abuts our natural area," Swaner CEO Colleen Reid Rush said Friday perched high above rapidly growing Kimball Junction. "There are three creeks that run through the preserve, and there is also a major interstate that runs through the preserve. It allows us to speak to how complicated it is to balance the needs of the natural world and the needs of the human."

The Swaner EcoCenter, which consists of roughly 1,200 acres that saddle Interstate 80, will unveil its new learning facility Sunday near the northwestern edge of the preserve. The 10,000-square-foot building, with its interactive exhibits, is certified platinum, the highest ranking from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a group which ranks buildings based on their green architectural features.

"When we started the design process we talked about the elements of the Swaner nature preserve, and these include sunlight, air, water and earth," explained Soren Simonsen, an architect at Cooper Roberts Simonsen Associates who designed the center. "So using that as a foundation for our design vision, we started looking at all of those elements and how they related to a building that would be sustainable and would learn from the landscape, if you will."

An on-site photovoltaic array uses sunlight to produce electricity for the building, he said, adding that an evaporative cooling system decreases annual energy use by 42 percent.

Solar power heats hot water in the building.

Sustainable materials

Much of the carpet and steel came from recycled materials. Countertops are made from sunflower seeds and the flooring from bamboo, which is more renewable than more traditional wood products.

The building’s timbers were salvaged from the Great Salt Lake.

"Everything in the building was used for some green reason," Rush said.

The building insulation comes from recycled denim, she said.

"Given the current economic climate, people are curious about sustainability in general, and what we hope to demonstrate is that being sustainable and choosing green is actually a more economically sustainable choice," Rush said.

The Swaner EcoCenter uses 54 percent less energy than a typical building its size, she said.

Water is harvested on site

"We’re harvesting water and using water in the building in ways that mimic the recycling of water that Mother Nature uses," Simonsen said

A collection system on the roof, which uses energy from the sun to melt snow, gathers about 40,000 gallons of water per year.

"We’re spending half as much on our energy bills and 90 percent less on our water bills," Rush said. "So for every donor dollar we get, a little bit more of that dollar goes toward youth programs or our sandhill crane habitat restoration, and less goes to paying energy bills."

The new building is 90 percent "water self-sufficient," Rush said.

"We collect and harvest and provide 90 percent of our overall water needs our self," she said.

Healthy air inside and out

Sensors inside the EcoCenter monitor air for elevated levels of carbon dioxide, Simonsen said.

"When we’re all in a room and we’re all breathing, we exhale carbon dioxide, and carbon dioxide, it’s been demonstrated that when you get higher levels built up inside, it can affect your retention and your ability to comprehend information," Simonsen said. "Somebody starts to get a little sleepy because the air quality is not great and they are not paying as close attention."

Meanwhile, low-emitting materials used in construction avoid odors, off-gassing and harmful chemicals, Rush said.

"This is the greenest building ever designed in the state of Utah," she said about the building’s platinum environmental certification. "There are only a couple dozen in the entire world."

A benefit Sunday at Swaner will feature guests Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Bob Vila, a spokesman for the National Green Building Association. The public is invited Dec. 14 to a free open house at the Swaner EcoCenter at 1258 Center Drive in the Snyderville Basin.

"What we want people to come away from this building with is an understanding about big choices, but more importantly, small choices they can make every day in their homes, in their businesses and in their schools," Simonsen said.


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