Members of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy joined Councilman Corey O’Connor at the Children’s Institute to publicly address progress on the Frick Environmental Center.
Roughly 12 years ago, the Frick Center, a wooden structure bordering the perimeter of Frick Park, burned down. Since then, two temporary trailers have substituted as educational programming sites.
For the past three years, Marijke Hecht, director of education at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, has strategized to rebuild the center.
“It was a very intensive process where we worked with over 600 people to solicit ideas,” said Hecht.
Suggestions for the new environmental center varied. As discussions developed, it became apparent that people no longer desired a building solely for classes but rather a space serving as an entrance to the park.
According to a conservancy Progress Report dated April 2, “the new Environmental Center will act as a living laboratory, providing children from all parts of the city with access to hands-on, experiential environmental education.”
The new center will also feature public gathering areas, classrooms, offices, a reception area, a gallery and public restrooms. Additionally, along the hillside, gardens and a woodland amphitheater will be installed.
The cost of the $15.2 million project will be split between the City of Pittsburgh and the conservancy.
“$5.2 million is coming from the city, and the other $10 million is coming from the Parks Conservancy,” said O’Connor.
While the city money is already accounted for, the Parks Conservancy will need to fundraise its share.
“The city has done its part, and I know that the Parks Conservancy will be able to raise the funding because it wants to start construction as soon as possible,” said O’Connor.
Hecht is hoping that construction will begin this summer. The process is expected to last approximately two years. When the center is finished, Hecht believes it will welcome an increased number of visitors.
“Our goal is to have 20,000 visits a year by year five,” said Hecht. “Right now, we have 3,000 visits a year, so it’s quite an increase, and we feel like that’s reasonable based on benchmarking that we’ve done on other similar facilities.”
The new Environmental Center will meet LEED Platinum standards for energy efficiency, as well as the Living Building Challenge, a green building certification program requiring advanced measures of sustainability.
While the advent of a green building excites many, some residents expressed concern.
Harriet Stein, a 40-year native of Squirrel Hill and Hazelwood, lamented the project.
“I think it’s an ill-conceived plan in every way,” she said. “What do we need a $15 million building for? It’s a huge footprint.
“Busloads and busloads of kids being dragged around, buses idling, taking them into a brand new building, showing them PowerPoint presentations of bees and butterflies,” she continued. “They could show that to them at their home school. Now maybe they should teach them about that at their school and then bring them to the park and walk around the park.”
“I think that it’s great that you’re putting an asset back into our parks, especially one that’s going to draw national attention,” he said. “And by putting so much funding into it, it’s going to be able to bring more and more kids to the park, which is great.”
(Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)