Environmentally sound

Environmentally sound

Marijke Hecht, director of education of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, says construction of the new Frick Environmental Center could begin later this year. (Chronicle photo by Ralph Musthaler)
Marijke Hecht, director of education of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, says construction of the new Frick Environmental Center could begin later this year. (Chronicle photo by Ralph Musthaler)

A fire left the Frick Environmental Center a burned-out hulk of a building in August 2002.

Now, 11 years later, restoration is at hand for what was once a major Squirrel Hill attraction.

If City Council approves funding, as expected, construction could begin as soon as this year.   

“The new facility represents an opportunity to not just bring back some of the value of the old facility,” said Marijke Hecht, director of education of the

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, “but really expand the reach of who is participating in programs at the center.”

The project as a whole costs about $15 million, Hecht said. The city has pledged about $5.2 million from the Frick Trust, which Henry Clay Frick set up when he donated the original land for the park to the city.

The Parks Conservancy is still working on raising the additional money needed for the project.  It will gather funds from private foundations and from the state, according to Hecht.

The construction should take 18 to 24 months to complete, Hecht estimated. During that time, access to the park will be maintained from Beechwood Boulevard so that visitors can enter the park.

The Parks Conservancy is responsible for constructing the new Environmental Center and will operate it for some time after it is completed.

“The Parks Conservancy has raised a lot of money,” said Ray Baum, president of the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition. “They have their construction plans nearly completed and they have been meeting with various neighborhood and public groups, including the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition, to talk about their plans as they go along.

“They’ve designed an environmental center which is supposed to be state of the art,” he added.

The building will have three levels and takes advantage of the location’s topography.  

The upper level will be space for the public.  Park visitors and people coming for classes will be able to come in to a welcome area with restrooms and water fountains.  The upper level also holds classroom spaces. There will be two indoor classrooms and one outdoor classroom.  

The lower level will be office space for educators.  A third level will house mechanical equipment.

The building will be an environmentally friendly structure.  It is on track to meet the LEED Platinum standard, the highest level of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification.  It will also attempt to meet the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous standard that involves having net-zero energy and water for the building as well as making sure that all of the materials are from a local source and do not have any toxic elements in them.

“It’s really one of the most exciting parts about the project,” Hecht said.       

The new center will be built in the same space as the old structure.  The work, however, does not stop there.  The entire area around the building will be developed as well.

The project includes improvements to the entranceway and parking lot off of Beechwood Boulevard.  The gatehouses and fountain will be restored, and trees will be planted.  About 35 acres of wooded land will be restored.  

The outside of the building will also boast a new feature, a woodland amphitheater.

“We met with folks from around the community,” Hecht said.  “There was always someone who identified that a woodland Amphitheatre was attractive to them.”

The amphitheater will be located right next to the building where there is a natural bowl shape.

“It’s not a concrete amphitheater,” Hecht said.  “It will have large chunks of sandstone for people to sit on and trees and some grassy areas to perch, but it will be in that amphitheater shape, so it can also be used as an outdoor classroom or as a space for a quiet performance of some kind.”

Once completed, the center will be a destination for park-goers to learn about and interpret what they see when they walk through the park.

“Ideally that’s going to translate into more people helping to steward the park and advocate for the park,” Hecht said.  “[It] is really critical for the long-term health of the park that we have as many people as possible understanding what the park brings to them, all the value that it brings and then actually helping to take care of it.”

(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at andrewg@thejewishchronicle.net.)