April 2, 2008
Contract Awarded for Visitor Education Center
Around three million people each year visit Yellowstone, and most of them make a stop at Old Faithful. Unfortunately, too many leave the Park without ever having an opportunity to learn about Yellowstone’s volcanic past and the workings of the world’s largest concentration of geysers and hot springs. But soon all that will change.
Many years of planning have resulted in a contract being awarded last month to Swank Enterprises for the construction of a state-of-the-art Visitor Education Center at Old Faithful. It will be built beside Old Faithful, the Park’s most famous geyser, to replace the old, outdated visitor center. Groundbreaking is scheduled for May 2008, with completion expected in August of 2010.
The overall intent of the new Visitor Education Center is to help visitors develop a deeper understanding of the geysers and hot springs of Yellowstone and the microbial life within them.
The Yellowstone Park Foundation granted $15.1 million to Yellowstone to pay for the building design, development of exhibits, and a portion of construction costs. This will be combined with $11 million in federal funding for the project.
“This major project is becoming a reality because of the extraordinary generosity of Friends of Yellowstone,” said Yellowstone Park Foundation Executive Director Paul Zambernardi. “When we started this capital campaign, we were confident that others would recognize the importance of building a center of learning that will be a magnet for millions of Yellowstone visitors each year,” said Zambernardi.
The new Old Faithful Visitor Education Center will be constructed in the style of historic rustic architecture with a clearly contemporary interpretation. Exhibits inside the building will use interactive and multi-media methods to engage both youth and adults. The building will also house an auditorium for visitors to view educational films.
The two-story, 26,000 square foot Visitor Education Center is targeted to be among the first visitor centers in the National Park system to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. Some of the proposed “green” features of the new building are a design that allows for a reduced heated space during winter months, the use of recycled and renewable materials, low-flow plumbing, and public education about sustainable practices.
In 2000 -- very early in the capital campaign -- Shalin Liu from Boston, who happened to be traveling in Yellowstone at the time, decided to make a major personal gift pledge to help create the new visitor center.
“I had never seen so many animals," said Ms. Liu. "It is their home. It is not ours. We should save it for them.”
A portion of Ms. Liu’s donation will fund a library in the building where visitors and researchers can read scientific and historical literature. It will also have a quiet corner for contemplation.
"I felt I was connected to that land and the wild animals there ever since the first time I laid my eyes on the beauty of Yellowstone," Ms. Liu recalled last week when she learned the great news that the contract was awarded.
“When it comes to that time for groundbreaking, you know where I will be. I may not care about a ceremony or big banquet, but I need to be there with the land because I know my heart and my spirit will be there,” said Ms. Liu. “People say they look for their roots. That is where our roots are.”
After Shalin Liu’s leadership gift, more than 400 individuals, foundations, and corporations followed suit by making donations of all sizes for the Visitor Education Center.
Major corporate donors to the project include ConocoPhillips, Unilever, The Coca-Cola Foundation, Toyota Motor Sales USA, IBM, the GE Foundation, and Lockheed Martin. Major foundation grants were also received by the Yellowstone Park Foundation from the National Science Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.
All of these contributions will ensure a Visitor Education Center that will provide a deeper understanding and appreciation of the wonders and magic of Yellowstone and its more than 10,000 geothermal features.