The Discovery Center is a planned indoor/outdoor learning center for children and adults in the Whittier Narrows Natural Area in Los Angeles County. The LEED certified building will house exhibits, teaching areas, and public meeting spaces. The permanent exhibits inside will tell a comprehensive story about the San Gabriel River watershed including:
The geological setting;
The areaís natural history;
The story of water quality, water conservation, and water recycling in the area;
The importance of watershed resources to area recreation, industry, and well-being;
Flood management; and
The interpretive program within the Center will be carried outdoors into the Whittier Narrows Natural Area, providing opportunities for visitors to engage with the river and the habitat on-site.
Where is the Discovery Center?
The Center will be adjacent to the San Gabriel River at Whittier Narrows Natural Area in Los Angeles County. The majority of the 11-acre site is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Whittier Narrows Regional Park is the largest in the Los Angeles County Regional Park system.
Who will the Discovery Center serve?
The Discovery Center will attract school groups, area residents, visitors and community organizations. Among its more than 100,000 visitors each year will be students who have never experienced the natural resources in their own backyard, college students interested in green technology, and nature enthusiasts who regularly return to the river to hike, bike and bird watch.
How do I learn more about the Discovery Center or get involved in the project?
The total construction area is 11.3 acres and the building will be approximately 14,000 square feet. Based on an involved planning and evaluation process geared towards maximizing the Centerís environmental efficiency, the project design includes an outdoor classroom, demonstration wetlands, and outdoor interpretive exhibits describing plant and animal life at the site, as well as the green design that protects these species. The building will include exhibit space, an indoor wet classroom, a library, and a public meeting room.
Will this new construction project negatively impact the environment?
Determining the environmental impact of the Discovery Center was one of the first tasks undertaken by the Discovery Center Authority. An Environmental Impact Report released in January 2010 concluded that the project is unlikely to produce a negative environmental impact. A Norwalk Superior Court judge found in February, 2011, that the report showed compliance with all mandatory state environmental testing procedures.
What are the specific impacts to the natural area, particularly the birds, plants and other species?
Much of the project site has been disturbed over the time by agriculture and invasion of non-native landscaping. This project will remove many of the non-natives and re-introduce native species that will result in a healthier ecosystem. While the project will have construction-related impacts, these will be addressed as provided in the Environmental Impact Report and Environmental Assessment (EIR/EA). The measures prescribed in the EIR/EA will ensure that appropriate steps are taken to protect much of the existing native plant and animal life, and to replace the plants and trees removed during construction. Project construction will carefully avoid disturbance of birdsí nests and the homes of other animal species.
What is the total cost of the Discovery Center?
The estimated project cost in 2011 dollars is $22 million, to be funded from federal, state and local grants, individual donations, private corporations, foundations and green building product incentives. To date $9.8 million has been committed to the project.
This project seems costly. What are the additional costs involved?
The Discovery Center will be constructed in compliance with LEED standards. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—LEED—provides building owners and operators with a framework for incorporating practical and measurable green building measures into public and private structures. The Discovery Center building is expected to cost $16.5 million (including furniture and exhibits); habitat restoration and outdoor exhibits will cost $5.5 million). The long term investment in an environmentally friendly building and site will bring long-term savings of water, electricity, and other resources that will more than pay for the cost of compliance with LEED standards.
Why not just renovate the Whittier Nature Center?
The Nature Center is aging and is too small to accommodate large groups of students or other guests. The interactive exhibits, public events, and educational programs proposed for the Discovery Center Ė designed to attract over 100,000 visitors annually Ė require a building size, infrastructure, and functionality level which the Nature Center does not possess. The Discovery Center, on the other hand, will be able to absorb easily the functions and programming of the Nature Center, and its larger size and modern appointments will attract a larger and more diverse group of the communityís residents to take action in water stewardship.
How will the Discovery Center be funded and who is going to pay for the ongoing operation?
The funds raised to date for the Center are from government entities that have pledged funds that were specifically designated for environmental and water education. None of these agencies has the authority to raise taxes for this project. All funds must be raised from sources that are legally permitted to support an environmental education facility. The San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority must control its budget as mandated by law. It cannot spend money it does not have for operation of the Discovery Center.
Are my tax dollars paying for the Discovery Center?
The Discovery Center is not directly funded by local tax dollars. The Center is funded by private and public grants, and corporate and individual gifts. However, since a large portion of the Centerís funding will come from state and national public grants, it is fair to say that Californiaís tax payers have a stake in this project. Thatís why we are working with local opinion leaders, area residents, and environmental scientists to ensure the project is cost-efficient, environmentally friendly, and community oriented.
Is this solely a space to hold meetings?
No. In fact, about two-thirds of the Discovery Centerís indoor space is dedicated to educational uses. All meeting spaces are open to the public, and it is anticipated that a wide range of community organizations will make use of them. While there will be some administrative spaceófor docents and staff members maintaining the exhibits and guiding toursóthat space is a negligible portion of the Discovery Center as a whole.
Iíve heard this project is just the beginning. Are you going to build more buildings?
No. In fact, the Environmental Impact Report completed by the Discovery Center Authority is specific to this building. The EIR does not allow for the building of any more structures on the Discovery Center property.