Nature center built with the environment in mind

CARDIFF-BY-THE-SEA — San Diego County officials were joined by hundreds of local residents to tour the new visitor’s center at San Elijo Lagoon on Jan. 31. With a $5.6 million price tag, the center boasts several innovative environmental features and educational displays.
Electricity will be generated by solar panels, cotton insulation will be made from the fibers of old blue jeans and rubber from recycled tires will waterproof the roof while recycled water will irrigate rooftop plants.
The new building is equipped with a multipurpose room, laboratory, offices, viewing decks and a room for educational displays.
Construction on the innovative building commenced in early 2008. The 5,600-square-foot building replaced the existing nature center on Manchester Avenue, which officials called an “oversized kiosk.”
Several visitors to the 885-acre reserve were not even aware that a nature center was previously onsite. “I’ve walked these trails and never knew there was a visitor’s center,” Samantha Jones, a Solana Beach resident, said. “Now you can’t miss it.”
“The nature center will be a gathering place for the community and visitors to learn about the natural history of one of the few remaining wetland areas in California,” Councilwoman Teresa Barth said. “The center will also be a showplace for environmentally sensitive construction and landscaping.”
The center is designed to meet the gold certification requirements of Leadership in Environmental Energy and Design according to Charley Marchesano, San Diego County chief of park development. The rating system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and is coveted by designers.
“This is a real opportunity to make a difference for the environment,” Shelley Stugart, an Encinitas resident, said. “I’m glad the county decided to go all the way with a sound ecological design instead of just dropping another concrete building at the edge of the lagoon.”
Architect Jean Zagrodnik said the building was meant to be a showcase of sustainable design. Floor-to-ceiling windows will facilitate natural lighting as open windows will operate as the building’s only cooling system.
Barth was encouraged by the conservation of the natural beauty separating Encinitas and Solana Beach. “Whenever I see the lagoon, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to have people like Supervisor Pam Slater-Price who had the vision to see the importance of restoring the lagoon and the determination to see that it happened,” she said.
The county built the center using local, state and federal funds, including a $300,000 grant from Slater-Price’s office. A park ranger will continue to staff the center while the county maintains the building and immediately surrounding grounds and parking lot.
In agreement with the county, the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy will operate educational tours from the center with help from volunteer docents.
“Pure magic” was the term Mayor Maggie Houlihan used to describe the new center. “It will do a lot to educate the public on the natural world in relation to the developed world,” she said after touring the new facility.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Kellan Mathis, 8, as he tool in the panoramic view from the second story observation deck. “I didn’t know it (the lagoon) was so big.”

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