Inside the walls of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute’s freshwater field station, scientists are conducting vital research to better understand and protect the Southeast’s unparalleled diversity of aquatic life.
When it comes to achieving the Institute’s conservation mission, however, people aren’t the only ones doing the heavy lifting. The building is an active participant, too. From a rainwater catchment system to the use of native plants in its landscaping, the field station was designed to improve water quality in nearby wetlands and the Tennessee River and to emphasize energy-efficiency and a minimal environmental impact.
Recently, the Aquarium received significant recognition of this design goal by receiving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification. This honor, conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), highlights the institute’s role as “a showcase example of sustainability” and its “leadership in transforming the building industry,” according to Mahesh Ramanujam, USGBC’s President and CEO.
“Genuine environmental stewardship in construction requires a passionate team and a thorough evaluation of every system, material, mean and method. LEED provides an effective framework for this holistic investigation, allowing the team to weigh the impact of even seemingly small decisions,” says the building architect, Matt Brown with Franklin Architects. “Every drop of water, watt of electricity and breath of air was considered during the design of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute, and the results are evident in the completed building.”
LEED certification is a reflection of how fundamental the protection of freshwater is to the institute’s mission, says Dr. Anna George, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation science and education.
“When it opened in 2016, this building represented a new chapter in the story of the Tennessee Aquarium and in our effort to improve the health of our rivers and streams,” Dr. George says. “This certification symbolizes the important role we will continue to play in not only protecting our waterways right here in Chattanooga, but also helping others learn how to reduce the impact of new development on the natural world.”
Even the ground upon which the facility was built contributes to the institute’s overarching mission of cleaner water and healthier aquatic ecosystems.
“Stockpiling and reusing site soil not only improved the health of the new native plants, it also greatly improved the site’s ability to absorb and store rainwater,” says Matt Whitaker of WMWA Landscape Architects, the landscape architect for the project. “Healthy soils have a tremendous water storage ability resulting in reduced runoff and less need for irrigation. When water is absorbed by soil, it isn’t causing erosion and sedimentation issues that would otherwise affect water quality in the Tennessee River. This had an added benefit of saving money for the Conservation Institute.”
At the grand opening of the field station in November 2016, Dr. George expressed her desire for the building to “establish Chattanooga as the United States’ capital for river conservation.”
In its first full year of operation, the new facility helped the conservation team take great strides toward this goal by serving as the hosts for the annual meeting of the Southeastern Fishes Council, offering a weeklong intensive education workshop targeting regional science teachers, and hosting A Watershed Moment, the Thrive Regional Partnership’s launch event for a regional vision and plan for protecting the natural treasures in the 16-counties surrounding Chattanooga.
Last April, the freshwater science center garnered four design accolades at the 2017 Building Recognition in Chattanooga (BRIC) Awards. The Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute project earned awards for: People’s Choice for Sustainable Project of the Year, People’s Choice and Judge’s Choice in Best Commercial Design, and the People’s Choice for Collaborative Building Team of the Year.
“It was an honor to help bring this amazing facility to the Southeast,” said Clint Dean, executive vice president of EMJ Construction, as he accepted the award. “Thank you to all of our partners on this project and to the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute for allowing us to be a part of it. ”
The public can gain greater insight into the work and mission of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute through monthly tours. During these guided events, visitors can explore the building’s advanced propagation facility and research labs and interact with its staff of conservation scientists.
The next tours will take place 4-5 p.m. on Feb. 20 and Mar. 20. Registration is $6 for students, $10 for Aquarium members and $15 for non-members and can be completed online at http://www.tnaqua.org/events-programs
Take a virtual tour of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute on Google Maps: http://bit.ly/2FH2rSm
Hear from the EMJ project team as they became fully immersed in freshwater conservation: https://vimeo.com/248143699