Oct 18 2006

State 4-H breaks ground for center

Montgomery Advertiser

By Alvin Benn

It was too wet Tuesday to break ground at the site of a $7 million 4-H Club Environmental Science Education Center, so officials did the next best thing.

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and more than a dozen officials of various organizations went behind the Alabama 4-H Center on Lay Lake to simulate digging into the ground.

"I'm looking forward to coming back here when it's finished," said Shelby shortly before the meeting was adjourned and the large crowd went outside for the brief ceremony.

When the 18-month construction project is completed, the facility will be added to the 4-H Center to provide educational and environmental instruction for thousands of Alabama children.

It also will be the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building in the Southeast.

"If this country is to remain economically strong, science will play a key role," Auburn University President Ed Richardson said during the program, which was held inside the 4-H Center built 26 years ago.

Students from around the state are expected to spend time in the new building learning about the importance of protecting and enhancing the environment.

During his remarks, Richardson referred to his days as a 4-H member in Pike County.

"Almost 10 percent of the freshwater that flows through the country flows through Alabama," Richardson said. "I would just ask you to reflect on that as we debate with Atlanta on how much they can take from our rivers."

Richardson also said the new building will provide an opportunity for urban children to experience "a special relationship involving clean water, air and wildlife" afforded children in rural areas.

Opp attorney Wesley Laird, a member of the 4-H Club Foundation Board for the past 11 years and emcee of the program, called the new building a "significant step forward."

Alabama Power Co., which owns the land where the current building stands, has extended the program's lease for 30 years with a clause to add 15 more years.

The science education building will contain 17,500 square feet of instructional space covering two floors. A large observation deck will overlook Lay Lake.

Water collected from the building's roof will stored in a cistern and used for the toilets throughout the building and for the fire protection sprinkler system.

The building has been designed to meet the latest in air quality and indoor environmental guidelines and will be energy efficient using natural light.

More than 500 corporations, foundations, organizations and individuals have supported the project. Shelby provided $1 million in federal funding. The Alabama Farmers Federation and Alabama Power were two major financial supporters.

Lamar Nichols, assistant director of 4-H Youth Development, estimated that $5 million has been raised "and we are hopeful that the rest will be provided by the time the building opens."

Nichols said the building's designers had a goal "of making sure we had a high-quality experience for young people on days just like today where we can actually bring the outside into the wet labs inside."

"I told 'em my one requirement was to be able to hose the kids down and do whatever was needed in case they are caught in a thunderstorm," Nichols said. "They'll be experiencing the outdoors indoors."