Visitor center state-of-the-art earth friendlyWritten by Quintin Ellison
Tom Robbins came out of retirement for two months to help the National Park Center open up the new Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
“I never thought I’d get a chance to work in the new building,” he said. “This is nice.”
Robbins, a career park employee, spent some 24 years manning the desk at the old visitor center, which was intended as “temporary,” but was in use for decades.
Among the attributes Robbins’ seemed pleased to see in the new building? The visitor center is about as environmentally friendly as it gets. The building is being nationally certified under the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.
Autumn Rathbun of Trotter and Associates, an architectural firm in Gatlinburg, Tenn., that helped with the design, described some of the eco-friendly features.
“It uses quite a bit of recycled materials and regional materials,” Rathbun said. “There are also waterless urinals and dual-flush toilets.”
The toilets use a rain water-harvesting tank, set into the ground, for flushing, Rathbun explained.
And, that’s not all.
There is geothermal heat and cooling, in that the heat-pump system takes advantage of the constant 55 degrees temperature of the earth. It pumps water into the ground though tubing where it gains or gives off heat, increasing the efficiency of the system.
The building heavily relies on natural daylight, including “really cool solar tubes,” as Rathbun notes. The orientation of the building and the select placement of windows allow plenty of indirect lighting into the building.
Outside, the landscaping uses native plants, which need little watering to thrive.
“In my mind, it is a leap ahead,” said Lynda Doucette, supervisory park ranger for the Oconaluftee Visitor Center. “We wanted something that would complement the landscape.”
Doucette pointed out that part of the new building resembles the barn in the nearby Mountain Farm Museum (a collection of historic log buildings); part resembles the old house in Mountain Farm Museum.
“It does mimic the buildings on the farm,” the ranger said.