Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the EcoCenter?

The EcoCenter is the new home for the Environmental Volunteers. We like to call it “the ultimate recycling project” because it involves the restoration of an unused historic building that now has a new life as an environmental education center.

2. What is the background of the EcoCenter?

In 2004, the City of Palo Alto offered Environmental Volunteers the opportunity to renovate and use the iconic boat-shaped building, located inside the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve. The building had formerly been known as the Sea Scout House.

The unusual building had been designed in 1941 by local renowned architect Birge Clark, as commissioned by Lucie Stern, one of the premier philanthropists in Northern California. The building has been vacant for 15 years, subject to flooding, and on the verge of collapse.

The building is ideally situated at a key juncture along the 400-mile, nine-county Bay Trail that circles the entire San Francisco Bay.

The EV committed to restore this historic landmark, beloved by hundreds of Bay Area residents who remember it as “the Sea Scout Base.” The EV has a contract with the City of Palo Alto that stipulates that if we restore and preserve the historic building, we enjoy annual rent fixed at $1. per year for at least forty years. The unanimous support of the City Council of Palo Alto, in addition to others like the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, reinforced our conviction that we are making an investment in a new community asset that will have lasting impact.

3. Why did Environmental Volunteers create the EcoCenter?

We believe it is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for our award-winning environmental education organization to move directly into an established nature preserve to advance our mission of inspiring environmental stewardship in our children.

Since 1972, the EV has provided hands-on natural science education to thousands of children, in classrooms and on field trips in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. The new EcoCenter further strengthens Environmental Volunteers’ commitment to interactive education, conservation and environmental stewardship in the community.

As part of this restoration project, we have completed a “broken” piece of the San Francisco Bay Trail that, when completed, will provide an uninterrupted 400-mile path for hikers and bikers around the San Francisco Bay.

4. How does the EcoCenter benefit our community?

The EcoCenter creates new opportunities to:

  • Increase science literacy for more children
  • Model sustainability and emerging green building practices
  • Provide more opportunities for volunteerism
  • Create a new community gathering place while restoring a treasured historic landmark
  • Provide a key juncture of the 400-mile Bay Trail encircling the San Francisco Bay
  • Expand programs responsive to the needs of the community and changing environment

5. What’s Green about the EcoCenter?

The new EcoCenter combines historic restoration with sustainable green building practices. The building is a model project, inviting the public in to learn about eco-friendly building methods and materials.

The EcoCenter showcases the use of natural ventilation during most of the year and an interior finishing palette that uses both recycled and non-toxic materials. Energy efficient heating and plumbing fixtures provide efficient cooling and heating.

6. What are your plans for the program development?

Beyond reaching more classrooms in the schools we support, we collaborate with peer science education and environmental organizations to develop programs at our EcoCenter for nature enthusiasts of all ages. We work with local established science educators to develop new programs that complement and enhance our portfolio of science education programs and field studies.

Part of our restoration project includes the installation of the Marsh Cam that features a 24/7 look at the bay marshes and links to new online science education materials that raise greater awareness of the importance of preserving our environment across greater numbers in our community.

The building has become a community gathering place for lectures, photography and art exhibits, and community education programs.

7. What was the timetable?

Prior to the start of the EcoCenter campaign, the EV Board of Trustees went through a very thorough evaluation process that reviewed and addressed the legal requirements and concerns of community, public and environmental organizations and governmental permitting agencies. The process also included engineering and design feasibility studies.

The construction timetable was largely dictated by the seasonal limitations on construction in the nature preserve. The endangered Clapper Rail nests in the Baylands during a long breeding season from February to September, and no heavy construction may take place during this period. The EV has affectionately adopted the Clapper Rail as a kind of EcoCenter mascot, as the project has become so closely linked to its terms.

The project was accepted by the EV Board in 2004, with the signing of a development agreement with the City of Palo Alto. The EV hired an experienced project manager and formed a team of experienced volunteers to help manage the project. We spent several years securing permits from more than a dozen agencies, and raising funds.

Groundbreaking took place Sept 14, 2008. Construction began in October, 2008. The first phase of construction was intended to prevent further damage to the building. The building was moved off of its degrading foundation. A new foundation was engineered and constructed and the building was moved onto its new foundation. At this point the building sits about 4' higher than it did, a critical step that prevents tidal flooding of the building as well as guarding against future sea level rise. Phase One was completed in October, 2009. The building received a complete exterior rehabilitation including: removal of all lead paint, restoration of the original siding, new roof and doors, and a restoration of the original windows.

The building is now finished after we completely renovated and furnished the inside of the building, rebuilt the front decks, landscape, and restored the Bay Trail segments adjacent to the building.

8. Who owns the building?

The building is owned by the City of Palo Alto and leased to the Environmental Volunteers, for a minimum of 40 years, at $1. per year. We hold a signed contract that was unanimously approved by the Palo Alto City Council.

9. How does the EcoCenter serve the needs of the Environmental Volunteers?

The new location enables Environmental Volunteers to raise its organizational profile in the community. Our old location at the Peninsula Conservation Center (PCC) served the organization well over the years, but it is located in a building in an industrial park on a frontage road off of Highway 101, with no walk-by exposure. In contrast, the new location at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve has thousands of visitors from all over the Bay Area each year. This enables the organization to attract attention and recruit new volunteers to fulfill our mission. The restored piece of the San Francisco Bay Trail literally crosses the immediate front door of the EcoCenter. We can now engage thousands of potential volunteers and supporters by virtue of our highly visible location.

Second, our new EcoCenter expands the space available for our team of staff members and volunteers to develop new programs, train volunteers and reach out to the public whom we serve.

10. But what about the costs? Isn’t it going to be expensive to operate out of the EcoCenter?

Our rental costs have actually decreased at our new EcoCenter, thanks to the 40-year contract we signed with the City of Palo Alto. When compared to the expensive and rising costs of real estate in the Peninsula area, the locked-in rental fees of our new home represents a meaningful advantage that frees up resources that can translate into additional programs and impact for the community we serve. Additionally, the energy-efficient green building strategies that we have implemented in the construction of our EcoCenter will also help us to manage costs in the future.

11. Aren’t you right next to the Palo Alto Airport?

Our new EcoCenter is safely located in the Baylands Nature Preserve close to nature trails, the soon-to-be-completed Bay Trail and the Baylands Interpretive Center. You will pass the Palo Alto Airport on the way to our new EcoCenter. More than 40 government, safety and environmental agencies have reviewed and signed off on the feasibility and viability of the project. The Palo Alto Airport Association has been fully briefed on our plans and supports this project.

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