The August 20 grand opening of the new Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon offers visitors a glimpse at a special place that teaches kids about outdoor science—through the vantage point of a green lens.

Courtesy of R.A. Nelson
The new Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon has sustainable features throughout, including these solar shades on the windows.

The center itself is a lesson in sustainability. The building offers energy consumption that’s cut in half, an environmental footprint that creates minimal impact on the local ecosystem and serves as an industry model for environmentally friendly construction practices.

The green education center, built by Denver’s R.A. Nelson and Associates, has already received countless awards and environmental certifications, including the Governor’s Energy Office High Performance Building Design Grant.  

The project is also seeking LEED certification—already with enough points to attain LEED Silver—and on target to reach LEED-Platinum status, with the final construction submittal following the campus’ full completion, estimated for this October.

“The project team didn’t use LEED as “something we needed to achieve,” said Barry Monroe, LEED AP project manager for R.A. Nelson. “As a team, we took the spirit of it as a motivator to do the right thing and make informed choices for all of our decisions."

The end result is innovative technology and environmental principles that allowed the project team to create a building that produces 42% of its own electricity on-site, for an overall energy reduction and a 45% reduction of CO2 emissions from a similar building.

Meanwhile, employing sustainable practices during construction and sound wildlife restoration after construction means that the sensitive wetlands in which the center is located will be unharmed. Best of all, the unique combination of environmentally focused elements of the building allow the team to offer this project as a learning opportunity of sustainable building in action—for both the students at Walking Mountains and other builders.  


Site Ecology

With land donated to Walking Mountain Science Center to house its new facility, architects and builders were forced to adapt to environmental limitations, such as the fact that the property is long and narrow, hemmed in by canyon walls and located in a sensitive wetlands environment, yet still have a minimal negative impact on local ecology.

To do this, the project team worked to make sure that:

• Building design responded to natural forces on the site, including solar access and natural cooling potential, which helps the building reduce its carbon footprint.

For example, the building is situated to receive maximum sunshine on photovoltaic solar panels (which heat the water), yet still take advantage of wind patterns in the valley to create a natural ventilation system;
• An onsite mitigation strategy was created that included development of new self-sustaining wetlands using seeded wetland species and salvaged soils and plant material;