The Stony Brook and Millstone River


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“Use what you have, touch the land lightly and reveal the energy of the place.” The words of project architect Michael Farewell tightly sum up the moral code of the Stony Brook – Millstone Watershed Association. Their mission is to “Keeping water clean, safe and healthy is the heart of our mission. We work to protect and restore our water and natural environment in central New Jersey through conservation, advocacy, science and education.”

The Association protects a 265-square-mile area drained by the Stony Brook and Millstone River which spans five counties and 26 towns. It is a non-profit organization based on the 860-acre Watershed Reserve in Hopewell New Jersey. The reserve grants access to more than 10 miles of hiking trails as well as the Buttinger Nature Center and Kate Gorrie Memorial Butterfly House. It also hosts the Honey Brook Organic Farm, the country’s largest community supported organic farm.

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This Environmental Center now provides a headquarters for the administration and research staff of the organization; introduces the environmental agenda of the watershed water management strategies; and demonstrates sustainable building and site strategies. The project is classified as an Addition/Renovation with a total area of 15,200 square feet.

Green infrastructure and sustainable strategies used are green roof, rain gardens, solar panels, natural lighting, rainwater harvesting, geothermal heating and cooling. Onsite power generation is provided via a 64 KW solar voltaic array that meets annual energy requirements. Roughly 85% of the energy used will be obtained from on site renewable resources.

There is a geothermal heat pump system that does not use fossil fuel and is supplemented by an exterior solar tube system that provides domestic hot water. The heat pump system circulates water 400 feet deep into wells. This helps cool the building in the summer and warm it in the winter time. Demand control ventilation and operable windows provide natural ventilation. Special consideration had been given to natural lighting in place of electric lighting, with roof monitors providing reflected light into significant program spaces. Automatic light dimmers also cut down on energy use. The utilization of a green roof, high U-value insulation, and building orientation greatly diminishes past energy requirements.

The project’s goal of featuring the water cycle meant that special attention had to be given to every drop of water used in the facility. The 44 inches of annual rainfall has to be managed with a variety of strategies including green roof retention, a collector and cascade roof structure that recharges through a rain garden, rain barrels, cistern for greywater use, an open loop geothermal system and an innovative constructed wetland system that features tertiary effluent treatment through natural processes. The water use is monitored and data made available in real time to visitors and students. There are exhibits featuring sustainable water usage strategies as part of the educational program.

Site strategies included a reduction of lawn area, introduction of meadow and native species with no irrigation requirements, new bioswales in existing parking and provision for alternative transportation modes. The building materials are mainly composed of recycled and sustainably produced products; recycled steel, exhibit cases and casework, FSC cypress, cotton insulation, and acoustic treatment. A precise listing could not be obtained.

The owner of the project, Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed, spent 8 million dollars on the renovation/addition. They employed Farewell Architects, Carroll Engineering and WS Cumby as the General Contractor to spearhead this sustainable endeavour. No one that was contacted from the three companies replied to a series of questions I had for this assignment. The new building increased the footprint by 10,000 square feet; this provided classrooms, a laboratory, computer learning center, conference rooms, exhibit halls, a gift shop, updated staff offices and a kitchen.

The architectural firm designed the building in an L shape which frames a courtyard. The plan was to dynamically weave the gardens, exhibits, amphitheater, trailheads and butterfly house. The entry pavillion is a glass walled exhibition space reached from the central exterior garden. From here the offices, interactive galleries, laboratory and educational spaces can be accessed. There are displays focusing on the water cycle, local wildlife and flora and the sustainable strategies for the building. Entry to the trailheads are denoted by the location of the butterfly house.

Watershed Executive Director Jim Waltman said its objectives were twofold: To accommodate its growing programs and staff and to provide a model for environmental stewardship. “The idea was to build a new center that would demonstrate technologies and systems that protect water, conserve water and conserve energy,” he said. “We will have this platform from which to do stronger education and advocacy on behalf of the environment.” A needs assessment was done in 2006 that showed the facilities were inadequate to any future growth for the organization. The next year an architectural firm was hired to complete a feasibility study. By 2008 the ‘Pass it On campaign’ was started but with a slowing economy it hampered efforts tremendously. The funding goal was finally achieved in 2011 and construction began in November of 2013.

The Association has received quite a few commendations for their Green and sustainable approach to the project. They have received the “Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award” from the State of New Jersey, the “Environmental Champion Award” from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the “Emerald Award” from the United States Green Building Council’s New Jersey Chapter.

The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award is New Jersey’s premier environmental awards program for recognizing outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects in the state. The Environmental Champion Award recipients are recognized for the high level of their accomplishments in protecting the environment in EPA Region 2, which includes New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight Indian Nations. The Emerald Award is awarded to companies and individuals that have demonstrated outstanding achievement and best practices in green building and sustainability.

These awards are all in conjunction with the LEED Platinum Rating the project received from the United States Green Building Council on April 2015 using the LEED BD+C: New Construction (v2009) rating system. (I have attached an image at the bottom of report of the LEED point breakdown. The image is the only thing I could find of the point breakdown, and it is only half of the information!) The Watershed has hosted more than 10,000 people and more than 300 different education programs/events each year. These all benefit the general public, schools and community groups. There are nine different Environmental Education Programs; Adult, Family, Kids, School, Scouting, Teacher, River-Friendly, a Science & Stewardship Academy and finally a Watershed Nature Camp.

The Adult Program is taught by faculty from local universities and consists of six weeknight courses and three Saturday morning field trips. Material covered is ornithology, etymology, dendrology, botany and how these all relate to each other and us. Once four courses are completed a Citizen Naturalist certificate from the Watershed Association and a Watershed fleece vest are presented. The family programs enable participants to explore the indoor hands on exhibits and a collection of small animals. Hikes and activities are also provided year round.

Kids programs range from ages 3-5 (Bugs and Butterflies, Fairy Forest Fun, Turtle Tales, Who Lives There?) ages 6-8 (Animal Tracks, Critter Show, Insect Safari, Nature Crafts, Butterfly Tea Party) ages 9-12 (Creature Feature, Insect Safari, Outdoor Survival, Geocache Treasure Hunt, Stream Splashers.) The School Programs list is rather extensive. Students are able to spend a full day or multiple days are the Watershed participating in the “Next Generation Science Standards” program. This approach allows for a greater emphasis on scientific research and hands-on learning rather than memorization and scientific terms. Offerings include Exploring a Pond, How Clean is Your Stream, Animals and Habitats, Discover the Season, Migration Challenge, The Food Web, Insect Safari, Maple Sugaring, Meet the Critters, Native American Lifestyles and Lore, Did Leni Lenape use STEM, Survival, and Trees.

The Boy Scouts are able to work towards several merit badges; Bird Study, Environmental Science, Forestry, Geocaching, Insect Study, Nature, Reptiles and Amphibians, Sustainability and Weather. The Girl Scouts are able to work towards Animal Habitats, Bugs, Geocacher, Senses and Trees. Camp-ins inside the Watershed Center are available which include merit badge work, night hiking and campfires.

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