The ribbon was cut on a brand new $8.1 million environmental center in Southeast Queens’ Idlewood Park last week, where community members praised the ecological education that it will bring for years to come.
City Parks Commissioner Sue Donoghue was joined by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Assemblymember Khaleel Anderson, Councilmember Selvena Brooks-Power, President of the Eastern Queens Alliance Barbara Brown, and Community Board 13 District Manager Mark McMillian to praise the completion of the project, which started construction in September 2018.
“Set along Jamaica Bay — one of New York City’s greatest ecological treasures — this brand new Environmental Center in Idlewild Park is sure to inspire kids to learn more about the natural world around them,” said Commissioner Donoghue. “We are grateful to the Eastern Queens Alliance for their partnership creating innovative programming here, and look forward to hosting our future scientists for generations to come!”
The construction of the new 5,400 square-foot single-story facility comes with new walkways from the existing parking lot, new entry fence gates, a new rain garden, a storage shed, new trees and shrubs, and native wetlands grass seeding.
The Environmental Center will be operated and programmed as a children’s science learning center by the Eastern Queens Alliance. New programming facilities include: an exhibition and display space, two classrooms for up to thirty students each (combinable into one space), an outdoor covered teaching area, and an entry foyer with reception desk and book sales kiosk. The center will also have restroom facilities for visitors; administrative space for staff, director’s office, storage, and conference room; and a new free-standing storage shed.
The new building and surrounding work was funded by the Mayor’s office, who chipped in $3.173 million, and the Queens Borough President, who accounted for $5 million, for a total of $8.173 million. The facility opened for programming last month.
The new environmental center also features several green elements and is expected to receive a “silver” rating or better from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system. The roof and walls make use of energy and resource efficient technology, including structural insulated panels, creating an efficient enclosure that reduces air infiltration and heat loss. Additionally, all rainwater from the roof is collected into a cantilevered “spout”, which dramatically releases the rainwater into a rain garden close to the main entrance to the building.
The building uses recycled materials throughout — specifically, the cladding and decking are both largely made up of recycled materials. Natural light is brought into the building by a bank of translucent glass, while vision glass is included at key locations to view the surrounding landscape. The Nature Center is heated and cooled with an efficient all-electric system so no fossil fuels are burned on site, and the project restored native plantings to a site that previously had been overrun with non-native species.
“After many years in the making, we finally have a community-centered facility in Idlewild Park with state-of-the art indoor and outdoor classroom space that will better enable residents to learn about their natural surroundings,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. said. “The center will enlighten visitors about Idlewild Park and Jamaica Bay and underscore their vital role in our environment, which is under an increasing threat from climate change. Hopefully, the lessons learned in the center will prompt greater support for measures to protect our vulnerable communities from this threat.”