Driving south on Ohio's highway 33 on a wet and stormy day, I was shocked to see this beautiful red brick building with a sprawling solar array on its roof. An unusually bold design for southeastern Ohio that captivates passersby with its contrasting materials, the Wayne National Forest Headquarters and Athens Rangers Office welcomes scores of visitors who take advantage of the 300 miles of surrounding hiking, biking, horseback and ATV trails. Because it was Labor Day, everything was closed, but I was able to snap a few exterior photographs and tour the verdant grounds planted with indigenous grasses and plants. Turns out there are a total of 302 solar panels on the roof, which produce about 20 percent of the 14,775 square foot complex's energy requirement and offset roughly 130,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year. That's about 63.9 tons of coal that might have been burned. And that's just the beginning of what makes this project so impressive.
After receiving $400,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Wayne National Forest commissioned Third Sun Solar to install their 51.6 kW rooftop solar array on the building’s south-facing roof. Apparently naysayers doubted that solar would work in Ohio, particularly in this part of the country, which is heavily vegetated and receives a fair amount of precipitation – roughly 110 days each year. While the rooftop array doesn’t provide all of the building’s energy requirement, skeptics are no doubt eating their words given that five years after the installation, the building and the panels are still functioning well. For those who love the geeky details, take a look at this graph of the array’s daily performance.
Long before the rooftop solar array expanded from 50 to 302 panels, the architects scoured the region’s libraries to inform their design of a building that would honor the agricultural, mining and brick-making history. In fact, the forest headquarters is built in part on an abandoned coal mine, which means it’s also a stellar example of brownfield rehabilitation. All this helps to explain why the building might evoke visions of a dairy farm, a grain silo, cattle chutes or coal tipples. All of the brick used was sourced locally from historic brick makers, and inside, the reception counter was made from the famous Nelsonville Star Bricks. The interior stone and hardwood flooring were also sourced locally, and all of the materials used for the steel siding, roofing, carpentry, insulation, ceiling tiles and wallboard were recycled in an effort to reduce waste. In addition to water conservation efforts throughout the campus, the welcome center conserves energy in part by using all LED lighting inside.
The Forest Service expresses hope that their building and various displays will make their center “the premier place for visitors to stop before mapping out a route to further explore the rich heritage, beautiful hills, and intriguing culture of the Ohio Hill Country.” We think it does and hope that it provides an example for other agencies and businesses to pursue.
Interior and aerial images courtesy of Wayne National Forest. All others ©Tafline Laylin for Inhabitat