California Nature Center and Preschool Earn Sustainable Design Award

By SCN Staff

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.—The Environmental Nature Center (ENC) and Preschool in Newport Beach recently received the COTE® Top Ten Award, the industry’s most prestigious award for environmentally sensitive, high-performance design.

Architect design firm LPA received a national COTE Top Ten award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for the design of the ENC and Preschool on the five-acre campus. Consolidated Contracting was the general contractor on this project. The project cost of the Nature Center was $4.2 million, and $6.5 million for the Preschool.

The 9,000-square-foot center opened in 2008 as the first LEED Platinum building in the region. It provides environmental education through hands-on experiences with nature. Last September, a 10,380-square-foot preschool was added to deliver nature-based education for children ages 2½ to 5 years old through a series of intuitive indoor-outdoor play and education environments.

Children tend to an organic garden and harvest the produce as part of the curriculum.

“It introduces kids to responsible sustainability at a young age and is a place where people will want to send their children,” said one of the AIA jurors in a statement.

Energy efficiency and water conservation are in every element of the facility. The butterfly-shaped roof opens the classrooms to natural light and supports a 32KW array of photovoltaic panels, which are designed to provide 105 percent of the net energy for the preschool’s electrical needs.

Natural ventilation, low-energy ceiling fans and a radiant floor heating system eliminated the need for traditional HVAC systems. Rainwater is treated as an educational tool, where water is channeled through rock basins and bioswales, and naturally treated and clarified by plant materials.

“For LPA, COTE represents the highest honor because it focuses on actual performance,” said LPA President Dan Heinfeld. “We’ve always connected performance and design excellence as one of our core values.”

Added ENC Executive Director Bo Glover, “It was extremely important for the design to mirror our sensibilities on sustainability and energy efficiency. Working with LPA gave us a unique opportunity to design a nature-based preschool from the ground up.”

The preschool was developed through an integrated design process. A holistic approach was taken to addressing the educational spaces, as well as energy and water conservation. Learning spaces throughout the facility are designed to spark creativity, cooperative learning and imagination. A blend between indoor and outdoor learning environments provides children with an intuitive understanding of nature.

“We were able to work as a unit with educators, the community and ENC leaders to develop the idea of learning through nature in a facility that reflected the group’s core mission,” explained LPA Design Director Rick D’Amato.

In addition to being certified LEED Platinum in April, the preschool is also pursuing the Living Building Challenge’s Petal Certification, one of the first projects in the region to target both a high-level of sustainability and the healthy environment standard.