Finally! The mystery of what’s going on behind the construction barriers at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, is solved and, one of our community’s preeminent environmental organizations gets a sustainability makeover. We visited the Conservancy as part of our regular NPower meet-up series and were treated to a thorough and enlightening walking tour led by Curtis Cafiso and Kelly Sowers. Only a few smiling grumbles from the group on why we didn’t get the golf carts and hard hats like the donors spied cruising around!
As a former Conservancy naturalist with fond memories of early career moments with dozens of enthusiastic elementary students, I know past colleagues and I have a bit of a soft spot for the creaky, woodsy, natural feel of the facility, built in 1984. We’ll miss those dusty old dioramas in the nature center! But new additions have been designed to complement remaining structures so we’ll still be in the brown palette but with a modern hue. And what’s to come will more than make up for it.
Curtis started our tour with some background on the renovations, which have been paid for as part of a $38 million capital campaign. Goals were to achieve LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards for all new construction, and, with the exception of incorporating pervious pavement (due to permitting issues with Collier County) 14 of the 15 LEED Best Management Practices have been reached.
The other noteworthy objective was to create a net-zero energy facility. Yes, you can design and construct buildings that function as mini-power plants and be freed of a lifetime’s servitude to your utility company with whatever rate they care to throw at you. It takes creativity and realistically, new construction. It’s not environmentally friendly, from a waste perspective, nor is it cost effective, to tear down and re-build an entire 21 acre campus so the net-zero status will elude managers for now. But four key energy reduction efforts will be moving the Conservancy in this direction;
1) Use of high efficiency LED lighting throughout, a savings of 80% on traditional approaches.
2) Automating control through campus-wide energy management systems.
3) Incorporating geothermal technology which uses the constant temperature of groundwater from deep wells in a closed loop system to help cool down Conservancy facilities.
4) In addition to solar thermal hot water, the construction of solar ready roof-tops could (if fully funded and built) generate 0.5 MW (or 70%) of campus electricity needs.
As Kelly pointed out, and we in fact were testimony too, not only will the organization be “practicing what it preaches”, but the additions are educational experiences in themselves and tours and interpretive information are planned for all visitors on re-opening. Staff are hopeful that the development community they interact with and to a certain extent, oversee as an environmental watchdog, will take note. Sustainable design is not altruistic at all. It saves money and means that your development or project by its very existence ensures that we have a community with natural amenities that will continue to draw visitors and new residents to our region for years to come.