Hope for green future springs eternal at Preserve

Last week, I was sitting on the outdoor deck of a second-floor restaurant in the 100-degree-Fahrenheit heat of early evening. A group of 20 green building professionals were in town to discuss regional coordination among chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council. The setting was appropriate; we were at the Springs Preserve Café, enjoying healthy food, a great view and a light breeze that kept everyone surprisingly comfortable.

We chose the Springs Preserve since we wanted to show our green building colleagues this world-class example of sustainable living that had just celebrated its first birthday and achieved LEED Platinum certification, the highest level possible for green buildings. A few had heard about the project but none of them were familiar with the details. I know our guests enjoyed the food, but the best was yet to come.

Just as we finished eating, we were joined by Marcel Parent, the education and volunteer programs manager at the Springs Preserve, who had graciously agreed to provide a tour of the facility. Parent has an encyclopedic knowledge of the complex and history of the site. He began at the beginning, explaining how archeological information is slowly revealing the rich, historic significance of the springs over thousands of years of human activity there.

As we moved through the facility, listening to the logic and reason behind the design of each area, it was like uncovering pearls of wisdom. The Springs Preserve artfully incorporates the wisdom of the past with the technology of the future, resulting in an experience that is unique and powerful.

I could sense the growing excitement in the group as we paused inside the large meeting space built with straw bales, rammed earth and beautiful reclaimed lumber from an abandoned railroad trestle that once spanned the Great Salt Lake. We listened as Parent explained the computer-controlled cooling system that uses passive cooling towers. They are based on ancient building techniques that have kept people comfortable for centuries, long before the advent of electricity. The result is a building that maintains comfort while using very little energy, even in the extreme climate of the Mojave Desert.

We learned that the beautiful, verdant wetlands near the entrance to the 8-acre demonstration gardens, is actually a biofiltration system designed to clean and recycle virtually all of the wastewater from the facility. As we stood on a platform overlooking the thriving abundance of this natural cleansing system, we had a glimpse through the trees of the not-too-distant casinos on the Strip, glowing in the fading twilight.

A sense of a change drifted through my thoughts like the subtle breeze rustling the leaves overhead. I imagined a new Las Vegas and a new world, both reinvented and rediscovered. The Springs Preserve has that effect on people. It is designed to provide a vision of the future, telling a new cultural story that is based on the reintegration of society with nature, rather than continuing our ill-fated attempts at dominating it. It feels right.

As we wrapped up the tour, I overheard snippets of several conversations among our group. It was wonderful to hear these people, all extremely knowledgeable about green buildings, speak so highly of the Springs Preserve. Some even jokingly asked if there were any positions open, intimating that they would like to spend a lot more time there. They left with a new sense of where Las Vegas is heading and the great promise represented by the educational potential of this special place.

There are many educational opportunities at the Springs Preserve. From gardening to yoga and archaeology to tai chi, there is something for everyone and every age. There’s also a fantastic library filled with volumes of information on sustainability. The library, along with many other areas of the facility, is open to the public at no charge. Day or yearly passes are available to those who want full access to all the amazing exhibits, and believe me, there is a lot to experience. You can sign up for the e-mail list or view the full schedule of great educational offerings at www.springspreserve.org.

I have been fortunate enough to participate in some of the classes, both as a student and a teacher. As part of the Green Living series, I have volunteered to teach more classes in the coming months, covering ways to reduce energy bills while increasing comfort. On July 24 we’ll cover windows and daylighting strategies. Passive Solar for the Homeowner will be presented Aug. 28 and the topic of alternative energy will be featured Sept. 25. These Thursday evening classes all occur from 7-8:30 p.m.

The Springs Preserve is just about the best place in the world to learn about green living. When you go, be sure to bring your friends along with you. It seems like during every visit I run into good friends or make new ones. Hopefully I’ll see you there as well.

Steve Rypka is a green living consultant and president of GreenDream Enterprises, specializing in renewable energy, green building, alternative transportation and lifestyle choices for both residential and commercial clients. The company is committed to helping people live lighter on the planet. Rypka can be reached via e-mail at steve@greendream.biz. More information relating to this column is posted at www.greendream.biz.

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