As we gather feedback from the community about the proposed Nature Discovery Center, we will try to provided additional details here as requested. If you have a question that is not covered in the project description or in the list below, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the timeline for this project?
There is currently no established timeline for this project. We are simply gauging interest from the community and gathering feedback. We want to hear what our supporters and the community-at-large think about the proposed facility to determine feasibility of this vision.
How will this project be funded? What is the estimated cost of the facility?
This project would require significant support from the community, which is one reason we value your input. Everything we do requires your support and this project is no different. Our goal at this time is to gather as much feedback as possible from our community and supporters so we can determine the viability of this project. If we move forward with the proposed Nature Discovery Center, we would begin a fundraising campaign to raise the amount needed. We are still working with the architect to determine the estimated costs of the Center, knowing that we are currently in a volatile market.
Will this facility offer event space?
No, the proposed Nature Discovery Center is intended to serve as an educational facility and will not include event space. We are determined to avoid mission creep with this project. While event rentals can generate income, they also require substantial expense to operate and maintain. However, the conference room may be made available for daytime corporate gatherings, when our staff is already on-site to accommodate small groups. We might also allow partner organizations to host classes or presentations for the community. These types of programs might take place after 5 PM but would be limited to small group gatherings (not to exceed parking capacity). For example, The local orinthological organization might host a presentation about birding in our area. Currently, the largest event we hold indoors is our Annual Member Reception. The past several years we have hosted this at the Monte Sano Lodge with around 150 people typically in attendance. This event is a come-and-go format from 5-7 PM so all attendees are not present at the same time.
Will this facility be used for school field trips?
Yes. Education programming would be a primary purpose of the Nature Discovery Center. We currently host a handful of small school groups each year but many schools require field trips that can accommodate an entire grade level at one time. A Nature Discovery Center would allow us to do that. The building is designed to offer a variety of flexible indoor/outdoor spaces where we could divide students into break out groups to present information or activities and then lead them directly out onto our trails. For this reason, it was critical for the location to provide direct access to Land Trust trails and this particular site offers spaces to demonstrate a variety of environments, features, and historic content within a short hike.
People learn to love nature by experiencing it. How would classes inside a building help?
It is not our goal to host education programs that only take place inside a classroom. We are currently limited in our ability to host school field trips and provide environmental education opportunities to the community. This facility would make it possible to bring school groups to our properties and provide the community with a public space focused on highlighting our region and all of its natural treasures. Visitors to the Nature Discovery Center would certainly begin inside the facility but our goal is to inspire them and make them feel comfortable to explore beyond those walls. Our goal is to lead them out onto the trails to see it all in person because we agree that experiencing nature is how we learn to value it. For many though, nature is not inviting but instead is scary and uncertain. We hope that by creating a welcoming space we can help dissolve that reluctance to explore.
Will there be educational exhibits open to the public?
Yes. The large main space where visitors enter the facility will be our public exhibit space. In this area, visual displays and interactive exhibits will tell the story of North Alabama’s natural world. This will be a gathering space for members of our community to learn about unique natural features and species found in our area. This public space, however, was also designed to serve as an additional overflow for our education programs which is why it is labelled “flexible learning space”.
Why does this facility include classrooms?
The primary purpose of this facility is to educate the community about the value of our natural world. That certainly means reaching children and students of all ages. The classroom spaces are designed with input from local educators to provide everything needed to host environmental education field trips for school groups. However, when envisioning this floorplan we tried to create flexible spaces that will adapt to our changing needs. Classrooms are designed to be easily converted for other uses, such as programs, lectures, and demonstrations so we can offer educational opportunities to our community beyond field trips.
Will there be an admission fee?
No. The Nature Discovery Center, like all Land Trust nature preserves, would be open to the public at no charge. The facility would provide visitors information about places to hike and enjoy nature around the area and offer interactive exhibits to learn about our natural environment. Certain education programs may require a fee to participate.
Why does the facility include administrative offices?
We hope to have welcoming faces available to greet our visitors and answer questions. While we hope to do this with the volunteer support, incorporating administrative offices into the facility allows us to ensure the building is staffed even when volunteers are not available and without the need for additional staff members. Staff members will also coordinate and manage education programs that take place at the facility. The Land Trust currently has 9 staff members, including 5 full-time employees and 4 part-time.
What will the standard hours of operation be?
Land Trust offices are currently open Monday – Friday from 8 AM – 4 PM. However, we hope to staff the Nature Discovery Center while our trails are open (dawn to dusk daily) so we can greet visitors and answer questions. This would require coordinating current staff schedules as well as recruiting volunteer support. Hours may vary throughout the year (as sunrise and sunset times fluctuate). We are uncertain about some of the administrative details at this time.
On average, how many staff members will report there each day?
We currently have 7 staff members who would report to the Nature Discovery Center on weekdays. We also have 2 additional staff members who work primarily in the field but would stop by periodically. The conference room is designed with flexible work stations along one wall that would provide work areas for our staff members who do not work in the office on a daily basis as well as volunteers who assist with administrative tasks. We also expect volunteer support to help man the information desk and greet visitors. However, the reception area is designed with a window into the administrative offices so our receptionist or another staff member could assist visitors when the information desk is not manned. It is our goal to avoid creating a need for additional staff as a result of the facility so the space has been designed to function with current staff.
Will the building be self-sustaining? Will the Land Trust have sufficient funds to maintain this facility?
A business plan to address this question will be prepared as more details are formulated about the Center. We have investigated other local, comparably sized buildings to estimate costs, such as utilities, cleaning services, maintenance, etc. The goal is to stay within range of our current monthly facility costs, and our current information indicates this is doable.
Are there any discussions/plans to incorporate green energy into the facility?
We will consider solar power and any other available options.