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Sheldon Lake ELC Earns LEED "Green Building" Certification
HOUSTON — Many of the 7,500 or so students who visit Sheldon Lake Environmental Learning Center each year see the solar power arrays and wind turbine generating clean electricity, but probably few of them know this site recently became the first Texas Parks and Wildlife Department building to get a prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The LEED rating reflects a multitude of features that TPWD architects and state park staff designed and implemented to create a model environmentally-friendly facility at Sheldon Lake State Park. The TPWD Infrastructure Division wants green design and construction concepts to play an important part of other new or renovated department facilities across Texas.
The team learned many lessons in the six year process of becoming LEED-certified, lessons that will serve them well if future funding allows them to pursue a Platinum LEED rating for the planned Visitor-Learning Center at Sheldon Lake State Park. The department is also designing new facilities at San Jacinto Battleground that are expected to qualify for a LEED Silver certification.
LEED is the nationally accepted standard for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. The certification is difficult to attain, which is one reason the Sheldon Lake ELC is the first TPWD building in Texas to get it.
Since the 1980s, the Sheldon Lake ELC has functioned as a place where schoolchildren can learn about pond and wetland ecology and habitats within 20 minutes of downtown Houston. Twenty-four existing former fish hatchery ponds were recycled to create the core of the learning center after the hatchery was shut down in 1979.
To meet environmental building standards, the learning center utilized a diverse suite of environmentally sound strategies. The classroom deck area uses recycled oil field piping for the structural components, and the restroom buildings in the plaza also uses oil field pipe and recycled bricks. The conditioned spaces of the building are energy efficient, using geothermal heat pumps to provide cooling and heating. Electricity is also produced from a wind turbine and two solar powered photovoltaic arrays installed next to the building. Seasonal wetlands and native prairies have been restored at a 100-acre area adjacent to the Environmental Learning Center and a constructed wastewater wetland has been added to naturally process sewage.
The Sheldon Lake ELC was created envisioning a giant, outdoor classroom where schoolchildren can learn about nature and the environment through a participatory, hands-on experience. The main audience is inner city young people, few of whom have access to fishing, birding and other typical state park activities.
The first phase was completed in August 2006 and was funded with about $4 million from various sources, including Proposition 8 bond funding approved by Texas voters in 2001. Significant contributions were received from the Houston Endowment to help pay for the outdoor classrooms and the State Conservation Energy Office (SECO), whose grant enabled TPWD to build five alternative energy demonstration systems. Phase 1 includes the new 4,600-square-foot Pond Center building with an outdoor pavilion to orient arriving students and for use as a large classroom on rainy days. A new 15,000-square-foot Pond Plaza of outdoor landscaped areas, demonstration wetlands, restrooms and a new observation deck was also developed in the first phase.
At the heart of the project are four new Pond Learning Stations that serve as outdoor aquatic classrooms. These include two Aquatic "labs" that allow students to get into the water to collect pond samples for study under a microscope. The Pond Crossing learning station includes a boardwalk that spans an entire pond with a covered deck outdoor classroom in the middle. The new Pond Pavilion is a shaded trailhead and observation deck in an adjacent wooded area at the far west end of the rows of ponds. Connecting all this is a rebuilt trail system that winds through the ponds.
For more information about Sheldon Lake State Park, including hours, fees and opportunities for school groups and families, see the park Web page or call (281) 456-2800.
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