A new education center along the Rivanna River is slated to open this fall, bringing students, families, and explorers to learn about the great outdoors and Albemarle County’s two celebrated explorers, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
The board of the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center awaits consistent warm weather to put the finishing touches on its new building in Darden Towe Park.
“The road [to the building] is our big delay,” said the center’s executive director Alex Searls. “It has to be warm enough to do the final paving.”
Warm weather also is necessary to finish painting the exterior of the building and complete paving of the handicap access. Searls expects the paving work to be complete in May.
Although the building won’t open until the fall, the center is scheduled to host a multitude of programs, and nonprofit events such as an environmental day event on April 12, a river mapping with the Rivanna Conservation Society on April 19 and summer training for James River Association volunteers, Searls said.
“The Rivanna feeds into the James, so they are a natural partner,” he said of the James River Association.
The building is just the newest addition to the center’s activities and spaces.
“For about seven years, I ran programs out of the [center’s] barn on the weekend for the public,” Searls said.
The barn houses some of the center’s equipment, such as a working boat called a keelboat and two lightweight flat-bottomed boats, or pirogues.
In addition to learning about the river, nature and the area’s history, the building itself is an opportunity for an environmental education and experience.
“When you arrive, you’re on the roof of the building, looking out to the Rivanna River,” said Allison Ewing, an architect at Hays and Ewing Architects. “You view the landscape and the river before you [walk] down and experience the building and landscape.”
Many materials used to construct the building also exemplify sustainable design, such as geothermal heating and a green roof, Searls said.
“The building is designed to LEED standards, but it isn’t certified because it is an expensive process,” said Sally Thomas, a member of the non-profit’s board.
“We will be using native planting that Lewis and Clark would have found and brought back,” Ewing said. “This can be incorporated as part of the educational aspect.”
While the building marks the newest of the center’s offerings, there are many more plans for the future.
“Phase one is just the middle [building]. Phase two is two large wings with an exhibit space, theater space, and a boat construction area,” said Chris Hays, Ewing’s husband and partner.
Since it will house a non-profit mindful of operating costs, the architects also designed the space to be economically sustainable.
“We created a series of places where the center could rent out the space,” Ewing said. “We imagined these terraces on site for the center to host events like a wedding or board meetings.”
“There has already been one wedding reception on site,” said Thomas. “[The building] is on a beautiful site on the river. We’re going to be perfect for field trips.”