Since fall 1998, the Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, Colo., has inspired environmental stewardship through natural science education. To accommodate growing demand and interest by public and private schools throughout the Vail Valley, the center selected architecture firms Zehren & Associates, Avon, and Mithun, Seattle, to design a four-building campus that would live up to its dedication to sustainability, environmental awareness and science education.

Courtesy of Zehren & Associates
The new Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon will use specially treated beetle-kill pine for all of the exteriors on its campus buildings.

The Science Center will be completed in late summer and comprises buildings that support interactive science exhibits, community events, speakers and classrooms.

To recall the agrarian history of Avon and to promote the use of a regional material, the architects chose to use for the building exteriors Colorado harvested beetle-killed pine, known for color variation caused by a naturally occurring fungus.

The pine beetle epidemic has decimated approximately 70% of the lodge pole pine trees in Colorado and dead or dying trees are visible in the mountains surrounding the project.

“Beetle-killed pine is a beautiful material that suits the buildings and the site perfectly. Using this material presents important science lessons in the value of building with regional materials and the health of the surrounding forests and, therefore, it’s well suited to the Walking Mountains Science Center’s educational mission,” said Brian Sipes, principal at Zehren & Associates. “We selected a custom low-VOC, water-borne wood stain developed by Sansin Corp. and Vintage Woods that is UV resistant, water repellant and rot resistant, and allows the beauty of the wood and its color variation to stand out.”
Targeting LEED-Platinum certification, the new Walking Mountain Science Center will incorporate other green features as follows:

• A high-efficiency building envelope that is air tight, with R-45 walls and R-75 roof, and uses windows that are two to three times more efficient than code. Special attention was paid to eliminating thermal breaks within the walls, roof and foundation. The buildings are expected to be 70-80% more efficient than current codes.

• Optimal orientation of the buildings to maximize active and passive solar energy and promote natural ventilation and cooling. The roofs will host 33.4 kwh of solar electric panels, and solar thermal panels will provide all the buildings’ hot water and some heating.

• Three-stage radiant heating to achieve energy efficiency and limit fossil fuels: solar thermal, then ground source heat pump, and finally, a 95% efficient boiler.  

• Low-VOC coating, low-VOC stain customized for durability and highlighting the beauty of pine.  

Sipes said that the Walking Mountains Center is designed to serve as a living example of science education through sustainable design principles of energy efficiency, alternatives to fossil fuels and low- to no-toxicity materials.