Location: Frick Environmental Center at Frick Park

Featured guests: James Brown, director of education and the Frick Environmental Center, and Ellen Conrad, naturalist educator

3 things that surprised me:

1. Despite Pittsburgh’s many cloudy days, 588 solar panels built over the parking lot can generate more than enough power to cover all of the needs of the environmental center. They generate so much energy that they can even send some back to the grid for other folks to use. The solar panels also collect rainwater used for irrigation and to flush the toilets at the park’s nearby restrooms.

2. James explained that they wanted to include a geothermal heating and cooling system when they built the building, so they installed 18 massive tubes full of glycol that go 520 feet down into the earth. About 20 to 30 feet below the ground, it’s a relatively stable 55 degrees all year long, so depending on the time of year, the glycol is pumped through the building to passively heat or cool it.

3. Ellen explained that before the Frick Environmental Center was built, water would rush down the hillside and erode stream beds in Frick Park. When they built the new facility, they included a rain ravine that is both an art piece and a sustainability feature. The rainwater from sidewalks and the center’s roof is directed toward the ravine where it creates a temporary creek before being sent into a series of constructed wetlands. The wetlands allow the water to sit and sink into the ground, rather than overwhelming the park’s stream network.

One thing that didn’t make the final cut: When we walked into the Frick Environmental Center, James pointed out a green light on the wall. As James explained, this light tells us if the facility is happy or not. The green light means that the building’s happy — but when it turns red or starts blinking, it isn’t working as efficiently as it could. That could mean that a window was left open on a cold or hot day and needs to be closed so that the building doesn’t have to start unnecessarily heating or cooling.

Additional info: You can learn more about the Frick Environmental Center at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy website.

Want more Yinzer Backstage Pass? Check out our visit to PNC where we watched them prepare for a Pirates broadcast from inside a TV truck.

Boaz is the host of NEXTpittsburgh's Yinzer Backstage Pass video series. He is also an author, filmmaker, advertising copywriter, teacher, experiential storyteller, talk show host, gardener, kazoo museum curator and so much more.