The Tyner Nature Center

“The energy efficiency of the Tyner Center is 97.1 percent better than the minimum requirement for LEED certification,” said Vitt Sale. “We expect this will be a ‘zero-energy’ building that generates all the power it needs.”

Small Footprint, Year-Round Learning Opportunities

From the outset, Glenview officials, the design team from Wight & Company and other project participants all made certain that the Tyner Center would be minimally disruptive to prairie and wetlands. For example, it is elevated by steel supports, which not only minimized the amount of digging during construction but also allows adjacent wetlands to flow freely beneath its floor.

“The early site work was similar to an archeological dig, since we had to scrape off ‘junk’ soil around the center to uncover the buried wetlands,” said Jay Womack, Wight’s Director of Sustainable Design, who was involved in the project as a former consultant for Conservation Design Forum. “From start to finish, it was like building your dream house. Everyone was intent on making sure all the details were exactly right.”

Visitors on the large deck that projects over these wetlands often will feel as if they are a part of the natural environment—yet another example of how the design blurs the distinction between “inside” and “out.” The center itself is an information venue that has been turned inside out with its large, educational panels, visible from outside the building. This innovative approach allows the visiting public to learn about the site (and the building) even when the center is closed. The “teaching garden” is likewise a year-round, self-contained educational resource with plaques to enlighten visitors about local wildlife, medicinal plants, the green roof, the reason for prairie burns and other topics.

The design also took advantage of Air Station Prairie’s location within The Glen, a large, mixed-use development of single- and multi-family homes, offices, parks and retail outlets. To draw attention to the center from pedestrians and car passengers, the green roof is slightly sloped to present a sweeping curve of vegetation visible from the street. On a nearby sidewalk, a two-foot-high “history wall” (with a timeline from prehistoric times to the present) also arouses curiosity and interest.

Advice on “Going Green”

Like nature itself, projects of this sort are usually slow moving; site planning for Air Station Prairie began in the mid-1990s, and the Tyner Center celebrated its official grand opening in April 2007. This was a community-wide effort that involved the village board, the park district, the school district, the owners and residents of The Glen, and concerned citizens such as Evelyn Pease Tyner herself, a long-time environmental advocate, who helped protect another Glenview treasure, The Grove National Historic Landmark. It also required Ahner, the project manager, to coordinate and synchronize activities among these and other contributors, including the Wight design team, landscape architects, the construction company and state and federal agencies.

How was the project team able to persevere and overcome the red tape, delays and other obstacles? What lessons did they learn that could be helpful to other communities and park districts interested in building their own “green” nature centers? Here are some tips and advice from the participants.

1. Plan early and often–Surprises are inevitable, but are best handled when leaders base their decisions on a clear understanding of big-picture goals and strategies.

2. Make sure everyone understands what ‘green’ means–From Wight project architect Jim Smiley to the sub-contractors working at the site, all participants understood the “green” goals and their roles and responsibilities for achieving the desired LEED rating.

3. Communicate and collaborate–Constantly share information with all team members, which not only will expedite smart decision-making but also will often lead to creative problem-solving and new opportunities for improvements.

4. Pay attention to details–For example, Glenview selected renowned exhibit designer Paul Bluestone, whose work is featured at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and the Disney Animal Kingdom in Florida, to develop the concepts, themes and content for the center’s information resources (e.g., the embedded wall panels, garden plaques, historical wall, trail signage, etc.)

5. Stay true to your dream, be patient, and don’t compromise–From day one, Glenview officials and the project team were committed to doing what was best for the site and nature center, a key to its ultimate success.

Final Word

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