RALEIGH — When it opens in 2012, the Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh will instantly become one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the state.
On Monday, state and local officials gathered to place an eastern red cedar at the center's highest point - a green twist on a traditional ceremony meant to celebrate the completion of the building's external structure.
"We are transforming Jones Street," declared Dee Freeman, secretary of the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The 80,000-square-foot Nature Research Center is part of Green Square, a complex of ecofriendly buildings now under construction on two blocks between Jones and Edenton streets.
Estimated to cost more than $100 million, the project includes an underground parking deck and a 149,000-square-foot office building for DENR employees.
When it opens in the spring of 2012, the entire complex will be connected via pedestrian bridges over Salisbury and McDowell streets.
The Nature Research Center was originally scheduled to open in the fall of 2011. Officials attributed the delay to the need to make sure the center is a dust-free environment before high-tech equipment is installed.
The center will be an extension of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.
Its signature feature will be a state-of-the-art, multimedia presentation area, shaped like a giant globe, that will broadcast live feeds of science news to school audiences across the state.
The center's director, Meg Lowman, said Monday that the facility will be unique in the way it merges science and technology to the benefit of students and teachers.
"As a mom, I can't wait to be able to share this with our children and the next generations," said Lowman, a research professor at N.C. State University who is known for research on treetop ecosystems.
The $54 million Nature Research Center is a public-private project. The state contributed $10 million; the rest is being paid for with private donations. To date, the center has raised about $34 million in donations.
The State Employees Credit Union contributed $4 million to the project, its largest ever charitable grant.
SECU is building a 12-story speculative office building next to the Nature Research Center that is being integrated into Green Square. It also is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012.
State officials expect the Green Square buildings to achieve at least a Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the second highest certification possible.
Green-building techniques, including using solar panels and capturing rainwater in cisterns, are expected to reduce the building's energy costs by 40 percent.
"This is the state of North Carolina's premier sustainable project and will be a model for future sustainable projects," said John Atkins, CEO of O'Brien/Atkins Associates, the project's architect.
As for the red cedar, it too will be sustained. After 24 hours atop the building it will be planted at the Museum of Natural Sciences' Prairie Ridge Ecostation in West Raleigh.
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