Tyson’s Living Learning Center opens May 29

An opening ceremony for what could be the greenest building in the Midwest will take place at 4 p.m. May 29 at the Living Learning Center at the Tyson Research Center — 2,000 acres of woods, prairie, ponds and savannas, located approximately 20 miles southwest of the Danforth Campus where dozens of WUSTL faculty do predominantly environmental research.

Participating in the ceremony will be Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton; Edward S. Macias, Ph.D., provost, executive vice chancellor and the Barbara and David Thomas Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences; Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration; Ralph S. Quatrano, Ph.D., the Spencer T. Olin Professor and interim dean of Arts & Sciences; Jonathan M. Chase, Ph.D., director of the Tyson Research Center and associate professor of biology in Arts & Sciences; and Kathryn G. Miller, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of biology.

The Living Learning Center is a 2,900-square-foot facility built to meet the Living Building Challenge of the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC). The center is designed to be a zero energy and zero waste-water building — both requirements to earn “living building” recognition from the CRGBC. The Living Learning Center will capture rainwater and purify it for drinking and will be powered so efficiently by solar energy that the building often will pump energy back into the electric grid to be purchased by the local energy company.

The building is expected to be the first in the Midwest certified as a “living building” by the CRGBC. The certification will not be final until the building has been operational for one year and can prove its net-zero energy and water use, Chase said.

The Living Learning Center will be available to faculty members and house a seminar/classroom for several WUSTL classes and other events. It also will serve as the base of operations for a summer high-school outreach program that is co-sponsored by the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Shaw Nature Reserve and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“The opening of the new Living Learning Center is an exciting event for Washington University,” Quatrano said. “It demonstrates not only the University’s emphasis on sustainability but also its commitment to teaching, research and community outreach. We have been building faculty strength in ecology and environmental science, and this structure will help in our educational mission and commitment to student research and instruction.”

“Tyson is in the midst of a major revolution and is a cornerstone of the environmental research and education initiatives of Washington University,” Chase said. “The Living Learning Center will provide much-needed space for our growing programs and also will serve as focus for research and education itself.”

Hellmuth Bickness Architects designed the facility. Bingman Construction Co. of Pacific, Mo., was the general contractor.

The Tyson Research Center is located off I-44 at the Beaumont-Antire Road exit.

Many of the Living Learning Center’s features contribute to the building’s net-zero water and energy use. The rainwater that will fall on the building will pass through a filter before it will be stored in an underground cistern. The pavement surrounding the building is porous and will absorb almost all of storm runoff. Waterless composting toilets will eliminate a major use of water and enable the collecting of waste that will be used as fertilizer for the surrounding grass. A 17-kilowatt photovoltaic system will power the facility.

Eighteen St. Louis-area high-school students will be among the first to use the Living Learning Center this summer as part of the NSF collaborative grant for the Shaw Nature Preserve and Tyson to instruct the interns in ecological research.

Beginning last summer, the students went out to Shaw to learn basic skills and research techniques in the part of the program called SIFT — Shaw Institute for Field Training. This summer, those same students will ply their newfound skills on research projects with WUSTL faculty and graduate students as part of TERF — Tyson Ecological Research Fellowship.