By George E. Stringham
St. Louis District
When the new visitor center at Table Rock Lake in southwestern Missouri opened on April 27, 2012, it wasn't just another Corps of Engineers visitor center, but one that would have a significant, positive impact on the entire White River Watershed and the Ozark Mountain region in both Missouri and Arkansas. The road to get the visitor center to its grand opening was several years in the making. In 2007, St. Louis District's Jim Hill did a six-month detail at Table Rock Lake, where he served as the Deputy Operations Project Manager. While there, he worked with the Dewey Short Visitor Center Project Delivery Team to develop a plan to redesign their existing visitor center.
Completed in 1974 the original visitor center was constructed from concrete and the design did not lend itself to remodeling. To reconfigure the space would have taken 6.5 million dollars and it would have been difficult to make the space useable for outreach and education purposes.
"It was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole," as Hill tried to describe remodeling and redesigning the visitor center. "The old building was just unworkable."
Given the constraints Hill then proposed a plan to develop a new visitor center from the ground up. In 2004 Table Rock Lake had received authorization from Corps headquarters to upgrade from a Type-B visitor center to a Type-A regional visitor center. Obtaining authorization to upgrade the visitor center was only half the battle. Finding the funds to build it would be the real challenge. It wasn't until 2009 that funding became available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
With 32 years in the Corps Natural Resource Management field, Hill had the experience and background to know what Table Rock needed and how to get there. He started work and analysis of current conditions and formulated a concept for the new facility.
"Jim's timing for his detail down here couldn't have been better for us," described Greg Oller, Deputy Operations Project Manager for the project. "He came in when the project was deadlocked with trying to do something with the existing building. Jim's experience told him that to accomplish the mission a new facility was needed."
Oller was actually hired to be the deputy operations project manager while Hill was doing his six-month detail.
After completing their initial analysis internally, the Little Rock District hired the Benham Group to verify the assessment findings that a new facility was needed in order to have a Type-A regional visitor center. The Benham Group confirmed that a new building was more cost effective than rehabbing the existing facility. By the time Jim's detail was finished, through his leadership, the building concept and exhibit storyline, both the message and sequence, were complete.
"St. Louis had received funding under ARRA for three new visitor centers of their own," Oller described. "They'd gone through the design/build process with Huntsville, which would prove invaluable for us."
In 2009, Hill was asked to assist the Table Rock team to move the visitor center project forward. This time, he would provide technical support to the Little Rock District to help guide the project from concept to completion. He assisted the Dewey Short Visitor Center Project Delivery Team in getting the project Scope of Work finalized/approved and negotiated, and contractor proposals evaluated and awarded. This required working closely with the Corps of Engineers Engineering and Support Center in Huntsville Alabama through their design-build Multiple Award Task Order Contract (MATOC) program. The project was awarded to Lime Energy Services Company of North Carolina.
"Like most Corps projects, we can't restrict the contractor by geography," Oller described, referring to where the contractor is headquartered. "What we can do, though, is make it so they use local subcontractors as much as possible."
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's intent was to stimulate the economy and get people working. The Dewey Short project did just that. All total there were 70 local contractors used in design and construction of the new visitor center. Another requirement was that all new federal facilities be built using Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards which requires the majority of the materials and products used in the construction to be regionally produced.
Hill worked closely with the Little Rock project manager Shirley Bolden-Bruce, Greg Oller and the PDT in both the building and exhibits concept design. The District PDT handled all of the detailed design and construction phases of the building. To complete the detailed final design, fabrication and installation of exhibits for the visitor center the Little Rock District once again tapped into the St. Louis District's resources.
Kimberly (Roberts) Rea, who started her Corps of Engineers career in the Little Rock District, would join the team to focus on the exhibits. Rea knows a thing or two about regional visitor centers and exhibits working at the Rivers Project Office which is home to another regional visitor center, the National Great Rivers Museum located just outside of St. Louis. She would take the exhibit project from the concept level, where Hill left it, to design and fabrication. As Hill phrased it, Rea championed the exhibit process to develop the most creative and effective exhibits possible and make the exhibit hall the quality experience it is today. "She knew what she was doing and she put in a lot of hours making things right," Oller explained. "And somehow, in the middle of all of this, she managed to deliver a baby!"
Both Hill and Rea provided visitor center expertise to Table Rock Lake while maintaining their existing job responsibilities in the St. Louis District. Hill is an Assistant Operations Project Manager with the Carlyle Lake/Kaskaskia River Project in Illinois and Rea is the Recreation and Interpretive Services and Outreach Program Manager at the Rivers Project Office on the Mississippi River in both Missouri and Illinois. St. Louis District leadership enthusiastically supported their "regional" efforts for another district in another division. "This project was unique," Rea stated, "it is one thing to work between districts in your own division but having the opportunity to work in another district in another division just shows how we can leverage our resources, provide opportunities for people to share expertise and grow relationships that will better the entire agency." It also didn't hurt that working on the project, if only temporarily, allowed her to come back to where she began her career in the Little Rock District. "There is just something wonderful about being able to give back to the District and the people who influenced you as a student ranger and ultimately provided the spring board for your career. These are the folks I learned from even though they may not have known it at the time. And to be asked to work on a project this important, this rewarding, is truly an honor."
Oller didn't just rely on Rea's experience. John Miller, Missouri Department of Conservation's lead interpreter provided invaluable support to design the exhibits. Many of his photographs also show up throughout the exhibit gallery. Rodney Raley, Chief Recreation Ranger at Table Rock Lake stepped out of his comfort zone to assist in the final design and fabrication of the exhibits. His knowledge of the visitors at Table Rock Lake was instrumental in creating exhibits that will be compelling to those visiting the center. And for the first time in the history of the Little Rock District an Interpretive Services and Outreach Program ranger was hired to manage the new center in partnership with their cooperating association, the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation. Leah Deeds arrived at the project in early February 2012 and provided critical support to the final design, fabrication and most importantly the installation of the exhibits.
After 18 months of construction, the new center was ready to open its doors to the public. The $12.4 million facility, perched on a bluff overlooking the 43,000 acre lake, is built to Leadership Energy and Environmental Design Gold standards. LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability focusing on five key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. (Source: www. usgbc.org)
Rea's mark on the exhibit hall doesn't go unnoticed. We get compliments on how the interpretive message is presented and displayed and how it flows from one exhibit to the next. One local school teacher commented on how broad the target audience is throughout the exhibit hall from pre-school to High School aged students and adults states Oller. "Kim really put her mark on the exhibit effort from the interpretive message that was created to the shape and colors of the exhibit panels to how these complimented the architects color scheme that was utilized throughout the visitor center".
Oller explained that the grand opening on April 27 was probably one of the greatest days of the entire project. "We were finally able to step back and see what a great product we were a part of in creating. Many of us had never worked together before but we had a common goal of a "World Class Visitor Center". "Going back to when Jim (Hill) did a detail at the Table Rock Project Office in 2007, where he helped us develop a concept for the center, through the planning process and construction and the leadership and creativity that both Kim and Jim provided with the interpretive exhibits, this has truly been a collaborative endeavor and I have been fortunate to have worked with both of them."
The visitor center is managed jointly with the Table Rock Project Office and the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation (ORHF), a 501(c) 3 organization. The purpose of this organization is to support the Corps of Engineers in all business lines to include providing support with capital improvement projects, education and outreach and to enhance the visitor's experience. They accomplish this by providing educational programs, volunteer opportunities, stewardship efforts, land and lake access improvements and research. In additional to the visitor center operations ORHF also jointly operates 8 of the 13 recreation areas on Table Rock Lake. "It is a great partnership that began 3 years ago and with the joint management of the recreation areas that began last year and I believe it will be a model for the rest of the Corps of Engineers" Oller states.
The response from the community and visiting public has been over-whelming. Summer camp groups have put the visitor center as one of their stops and it's not uncommon to have several school buses arrive early in the morning and spend the day. Businesses, Chamber of Commerce's and civic organizations have utilized the variety of meeting space that is available in the new center. A month after we opened, we hosted a reception one evening for "Water Watch Week" that was held in Branson, Missouri in which nearly 100 water quality groups throughout Missouri were represented to discuss a variety of subjects related to water quality/quantity topics.
Only 6 miles from Branson, Oller is confident they'll have a least one-half million visitors in five years. With the close proximity to Branson and the amount of recreation activity that occurs on Table Rock Lake it is expected that visitation in the new visitor center will remain high. The public and community are really excited about the new center. It is being marketed by the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation and the area Chamber of Commerce's as a destination site for visitors to the Branson area. The new visitor center is open 7 days per week, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
3 Types of Visitor Centers
Type-A Regional Visitor Center
Exhibits and displays that depict more than just the local project. Only a handful of regional visitor centers exist across the nation.
Type B Project Visitor Center
They're more locally focused and tell that project's story. Most common type found at many projects.
Type C Visitor Information Center
The smallest of the three and typically feature a reception area only.
LEED side bar
LEED-certified buildings are designed to:
•Lower operating costs and increase asset value
•Reduce waste sent to landfills
•Conserve energy and water
•Be healthier and safer for occupants
•Reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions
•Qualify for tax rebates, zoning allowances and other incentives in hundreds of cities
Moreover, an organization's participation in the voluntary and technically rigorous LEED process demonstrates leadership, innovation, environmental stewardship and social responsibility.
LEED promotes a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in 5 key areas:
Site selection and development are important components of a building's sustainability. The Sustainable Sites category discourages development on previously undeveloped land; seeks to minimize a building's impact on ecosystems and waterways; encourages regionally appropriate landscaping; rewards smart transportation choices; controls storm water runoff; and promotes reduction of erosion, light pollution, heat island effect and construction-related pollution.
Buildings are major users of our potable water supply. The goal of the Water Efficiency category is to encourage smarter use of water, inside and out. Water reduction is typically achieved through more efficient appliances, fixtures and fittings inside and water-conscious landscaping outside
Energy & Atmosphere
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, buildings use 39% of the energy and 74% of the electricity produced each year in the United States. The Energy & Atmosphere category encourages a wide variety of energy-wise strategies: commissioning; energy use monitoring; efficient design and construction; efficient appliances, systems and lighting; the use of renewable and clean sources of energy, generated on-site or off-site; and other innovative measures.
Materials & Resources
During both the construction and operations phases, buildings generate a lot of waste and use large quantities of materials and resources. The Materials & Resources category encourages the selection of sustainably grown, harvested, produced and transported products and materials. It promotes waste reduction as well as reuse and recycling, and it particularly rewards the reduction of waste at a product's source.
Indoor Environmental Quality
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans spend about 90% of their day indoors, where the air quality can be significantly worse than outside. The Indoor Environmental Quality category promotes strategies that improve indoor air as well as those that provide access to natural daylight and views and improve acoustics.