Reborn field station to feature new buildings, observatory

The scheduled rejuvenation of Rice Creek Biological Field Station has become a rebirth, thanks to plans for a new, larger, greener building to replace the wood-frame structure that has housed the research and educational headquarters for 46 years.

In all, the finalized $3 million plan calls for not only an energy-efficient, 7,200-square-foot main building, but an adjacent astronomical observatory, rebuilt pavilion, reconstructed maintenance garage and new educational and directional signage for the 400-acre preserve’s trails.

“I’m very excited,” said Lucina Hernandez, the field station’s director. “It’s really good to have a new building with more modern facilities. The field station is the public avenue to the college for many people. The new building will have low impact ecologically, and that’s a good way for the college to show the public that we can live in a sustainable manner.”

Artist's rendering of new Rice Creek building.The floor plan for the new headquarters—3,000 square feet larger than the old—calls for 24-seat wet and dry laboratories, with the dry one separated from a 24-seat classroom by a removable folding wall. There will be a research lab and a collections room, a welcoming area with a library, a mudroom and a shower for cleaning up after field work, a control room for the observatory 80 feet away, and offices for Hernandez, Assistant Director Diann Jackson and visiting faculty.

Thomas Simmonds, associate vice president for facilities, said the project should go out for bid in late January, get under way in May and be ready for public use in June 2013.

Decommissioning the current laboratories and demolishing the original building will coincide with the new construction, so Rice Creek’s headquarters will shift to temporary offices at Fallbrook Recreation Center, and the public will enter the preserve at the trailhead there. Hernandez said most trails would remain accessible to the public.

Programming hiatus

Hernandez said the long-running Exploring Nature summer program will be suspended this year, as will naturalist-led Rice Creek Rambles and the Story Hour, from this May to the grand reopening in June 2013.

“We will use that time for the staff to concentrate on developing new programming for the future,” she said.

Brownell Road, the main access to Rice Creek’s headquarters, will be closed to all but construction vehicles for the year starting in May, but the parking area at Fallbrook will serve trail users and those visiting the temporary offices.

“The whole building will be a living laboratory, because it is designed to be much closer to a net-zero structure in terms of carbon emissions,” Simmonds said.

The exterior will feature a super-insulated assembly that includes spray polyurethane foam, triple-glazed glass and fibrous cement board siding built for user comfort, durability and energy savings. A rooftop solar array will provide about 40 percent of the structure’s energy needs, and a state-of-the-art heat pump system will supply heating and cooling, he said.

“We had to be sensitive to adjacent wetlands,” said Simmonds, explaining the plan to close the central area of Rice Creek during construction. Site requirements have changed a lot since Rice Creek opened in 1966, he said, and a modern septic and storm water retention system will be just two of the elements for making the new facilities as environmentally sensitive as possible.

“The original building has lived a great life and served us well since 1966,” Simmonds said. “From a programmatic and ecological standpoint, the new one will be more effective.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Research at its heart—In this Cannon Design drawing, a $3 million plan to update 46-year-old Rice Creek Biological Field Station includes, from left, a 7,200-square-foot main research and education headquarters, an astronomical observatory relocated from Romney Field House’s parking lot, a rebuilt pavilion and a reconstructed maintenance garage.

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(Posted: Jan 19, 2012)

Tags: rice creek field station, rice creek, biology, biological sciences