BETHLEHEM — Construction activity at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center is in full swing. Contractors are currently paving a new parking lot and building the foundation for the new structure.
“With the warm weather, the construction is going along according to schedule. We are still anticipating it will be completed somewhere around the end of this calendar year,” said Ray Perry, director of the facility, located on Game Farm Road in Delmar.
Construction was made possible by a $7 million grant from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s capital projects fund. The new, 9,500 square-foot Vistor Center, which will be more than double the size of Five Rivers’ existing facility, will stand next to the Wendy Repass Suozzo classroom, which was completed in 2014.
The nature preserve’s existing visitor center, a cafeteria brought to Five Rivers in 1968 with a maximum capacity of around 70 people, will be torn down once the new visitor center is ready.
“We’ll have exhibits that feature native New York State wildlife, different habitats… What we’re doing is combing for the best of both professionally-done exhibits – some rotating, but also keeping some standing exhibits that people have grown to know and love, like the taxidermy mounts, the large mural already in our visitor center and the large animals in tanks, so it really does combine the best of old with a lot of the new features,” explained Perry.
And it all will be housed in a top-of-the-line, green, energy-efficient building. Features include geothermal heating and cooling and a living, breathing green room with rain water collection to flush toilets. Its roof will not only be made from recycled plant materials, but will also be lined with solar panels. Some of the trees cut down during the clearing of the construction site were used to make lumber for the new building.
“It looks like pretty much all tree clearing that needs to be done has been done. From here on in it will all be more building up than taking things down.”
The team at Five Rivers has wanted make these upgrades for a long time. Bringing the existing building up to energy-efficient standards would have cost a lot more than having an entirely new structure built, said Perry.
“The classroom we’ll be getting will be able to accommodate larger groups, somewhere in the range of 100 people, with multiple meeting rooms that can be rented for professional use and everything will be new.”
“We wanted to enhance the visitor experience. We want exhibits to be enjoyable, but we want to peak interest when they come in and see the exhibits so that they want to explore all the great nature that Five Rivers has to offer.”