Tell Us What You Want

King County residents have a place to learn and grow at the new Brightwater Environmental Education and Community Center
Tell Us What You Want
The center’s programs include field investigations with students.

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To connect with the public, the King County (Wash.) Wastewater Treatment Division needed a place where people could gather to learn where water comes from and why wastewater treatment is so important.

The Brightwater Environmental Education and Community Center (BEECC) now provides a place where community members can meet, socialize, and learn about their environment.

“The community said they really wanted three things out of the center: a park area, a community center that could be rented out for events, and an environmental education center,” says Susan Tallarico, Brightwater Center director.

Built as mitigation for the treatment facility to address construction and operations impacts of the project on the surrounding community, the 15,000-square-foot center includes an interactive exhibit hall, two classrooms, a college-level laboratory, conference and event spaces, a kitchen and administrative offices.

The rental space can accommodate up to 250 people and is designed for community group meetings, conferences, weddings and other special events. The large room can be broken down into smaller configurations for multiple groups.


Helping hands

The $8 million center involved 10 years of planning and coincided with a treatment plant expansion. The Brightwater Clean Water Treatment Facility was built in response to growth in King and Snohomish counties. The new facilities include the treatment plant, wastewater conveyance, and a marine outfall. Operations began in September 2011 and the entire system is scheduled for completion in 2012.

Many people were involved in developing and designing the center. “The King County Wastewater Treatment Division assigned several current or former operating supervisors to the design of the project, including the Brightwater Environmental Education Community Center,” notes Ron Kohler, Brightwater Clean Water Treatment Facility assistant manger. “The operation and maintenance team’s focus was on the maintainability of the BEECC, including materials of construction.”

In addition to the treatment plant staff and engineers, a local teacher task force helped create the Brightwater Center.

“There was a group of teachers who were really interested in the project, and they really were pushing for the environmental education center,” Tallarico says. “They were really involved in the early stages, from the designs of the building to possible program ideas.”

The King County Wastewater Division and Friends of the Hidden River, a nonprofit group of local teachers, secured more than $1 million in grant funding for the facility. “The teacher task force was integral in helping raise additional funds,” says Tallarico. “King County worked with them to get additional funds that allowed our building to be LEED Platinum certified and to outfit some of our classrooms to a high-standard laboratory level.”

As a LEED-certified building, the center includes:

• Use of recycled materials

• Reuse of existing on-site and salvaged materials when possible

• Natural ventilation and daylighting

• Energy-efficient lighting

• ENERGY STAR appliances

• Radiant floor heating from the treatment plant’s thermal energy production

• Washington-made solar panels

• Green building features used as teaching tools

• Reclaimed water used for irrigation and toilet flushing.


Not hiding

The 36 mgd (design) wastewater treatment plant serves 105,000 people and will eventually serve 190,000 after Phase 2 of the expansion, to be completed by 2040.

“We’re not hiding the center,” says Tallarico. “We are literally right next to the treatment plant. We are really working with the treatment plant side of things because we use it as a way of teaching folks. We do tours of the treatment plant all the time, from fourth graders all the way up to adults. That’s just one part of the education that we provide.”

Kohler adds: “Having the center on the treatment plant site is very rewarding. The treatment plant staff sees the public school tours coming by several times a day and the staff knows the children are being educated about wastewater treatment and the environment.

“The kids see the equipment and the complexity of wastewater treatment and they are impressed. Making an impression on a child is the way to have them think about their actions. They know how throwing the wrong things down the toilet can cause us problems. I see my staff grinning when the tours of children go by.”


Well-rounded education

The center offers a place where groups can learn how different aspects of the treatment process work and what is involved in cleaning water. “The story of where our water comes from, how we’re connected to our water, where our water goes, how our water gets cleaned — that whole story is something not many people are aware of,” says Tallarico. “Here, any person can walk in, get some information, and play with all of our fun displays. They’re all very hands-on, active displays.”

The exhibit hall includes information display panels along with six interactive displays. Three video monitors continuously show educational information. There is a high-definition video art installation called “Circulator” by local artist Jim Blashfield. It has multiple screens, including a portal hole on the floor and a seven-minute video interpretation of the water’s journey through the human-made and natural worlds.

One of the main displays focuses on water use in the home and includes a toilet, shower, refrigerator, kitchen sink and cabinets. The toilet has information about what should and should not be flushed. The shower door has a comparison diagram of water use broken down by country.

The refrigerator contains gallon jugs with cards that explain how many gallons of water it takes to produce different types of food. The kitchen cabinets have typical household cleaning products with tags giving alternative recipes for creating environmentally friendly cleaning solutions.

“A lot of people think environmental education is taking kids out in the woods or to play in the river,” says Tallarico. “That’s not really the scope of environmental education. Environmental education is teaching people about all the aspects of their environment. A lot of those aspects happen to be man-made.

“And it’s talking about that connection of how humans affect the planet. Talking about wastewater and the waste that we produce is a perfect example of getting those messages across that while we alter the environment, we can also clean it up and protect it through a wastewater treatment facility.”


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