Parks receiving Nature Centers
About the Nature Centers
The first nature center constructed by Maricopa County's Parks and Recreation Department is is housed at Estrella Mountain Regional Park. This nature center has served as the prototype for additional centers. Before the department began designing the prototype, staff sought Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification criteria from the U.S. Green Building Council to gain a better understanding as to which types of materials and facilities would work best to preserve the natural environment of the park.
The goal of the project was to design a fully functional, sustainable and energy efficient visitor’s center while minimizing the disturbance to the natural landscape and maximizing the design compatibility with the natural surroundings. Several other factors taken into consideration included the preservation of wildlife corridors, the need to avoid disturbing natural undeveloped land and the possibility of utilizing a site which already had been previously disturbed.
After a lengthy design process with a team of architects and staff, Parks agreed on a prototype that would be aesthetically pleasing to guests as well as energy efficient and functional.
The nature centers contain an entry pathway that welcomes visitors into the park and encourages them to venture into their natural surroundings. The nature centers at Cave Creek Regional Park and Usery Mountain Regional Park are paired with outdoor amphitheaters and are connected to the centers by scenic desert walkways that stem from the back patio. The amphitheaters allow staff to and incorporate interpretive and green educational programming opportunities.
As visitors make their way down the path to the center, they’ll notice a garden roof system that contains native plant species and enables the facility to visually integrate into its surrounding. The desert roof adds a significant insulative value, retains rainwater, and reduces storm water runoff on the site.
Once inside the facility, visitors will see a central skylight that is fully glazed for daylight admission yet is situated behind deep shade canopies to discourage direct sun in the summer. In the winter, when the low sun angle hits it, the skylight absorbs and reradiates the heat into the space. The floors consist of exposed concrete that, along with the 20-inch-thick masonry walls, act as a thermal mass.
The walls, glass and the roof are all designed and insulated to meet or exceed American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers energy standards. For instance, the windows are operable with dual-glazed low-e glass, allowing them to be opened for natural ventilation when the weather permits and to resist heat gain in the summer.
Whenever possible, Parks also took special care in selecting materials that were regional, rapidly renewable and offered high recycled content.For example, the majority of the installed materials were left with a natural finish to reduce the use of paints and varnishes. Exterior materials, such as the corrugated metal roofing panels and the unpainted steel siding, were chosen for their durability and low maintenance needs. The restrooms will use low-flow toilets and waterless urinals.