Living Building and Site Features


Our new site off of Route 116, just 2.5 miles from our current location, offers spectacular opportunities for greater visibility and capacity to more than double our innovative environmental education programs. Sited on land of Hampshire College, the new Center will be between the Red Barn and the Farm Center with access to miles of trails, a variety of ecological habitats, and will offer an invitation to visitor’s to engage with ecological principles throughout the building and beyond.

In October, we decorated the building with all the beautiful pumpkins that our community had carved for our annual Enchanted Forest event.


The floor plan consists of two wings. The first wing includes a welcoming visitor’s center, community meeting room, office space for a growing staff, the Peg McDaniel Curriculum Resource Library and study area for formal and informal educators. The second wing includes three flexible state-of-the-art classrooms, two of which can be configured to accommodate groups of up to 130 people, and two restrooms with a total of four composting toilets.

140625_new floor plan 09-19_sm


The visitor center, filled with books, field guides and natural history specimens serves as a launching pad to the experiential learning opportunities throughout the building. It is warm, comfortable and inviting; with reading nooks, a naturalists’ desk, and hands-on children’s discovery spaces; and wildlife viewing areas.

What’s in the drawers? Exploring in our Visitor Center.

Visitors will find three live exhibits, each focusing on a distinct New England habitat: a woodland habitat with Speedy, our Eastern Box Turtle; an aquatic habitat featuring native fish; and a meadow habitat featuring a corn snake. Our “teaching creatures” are ambassadors for each of the habitats they represent. Displays describe and explain habitat requirements and adaptations.


The building is designed with two wings that dissect the land into two distinct courtyard areas – the Nest Courtyard to the east and the Den Courtyard to the west. Each courtyard will represent two distinct habitat zones: a hilltop open meadow zone (the Nest) and a shaded, woodland zone (the Den), each surrounded by native demonstration gardens, bird feeders and baths, kestrel nesting boxes, insect hotels, benches and chairs, and picnic tables.

Exhibit - Nest Courtyard 2Exhibit - Den Courtyard 2


Our landscape plan has been designed to create essential habitat and demonstration gardens for birds, butterflies and wildlife. We will use only native plants to create the foundation for healthy ecological communities.


The Peg McDaniel Curriculum Resource library is a definitive collection of K–12 teaching resources that is available to educators and other teaching organizations in a space designed for research and study.

An office area filled with natural light provides an open, collaborative and efficient work environment for a growing staff.


The ecotone is a connecting space between the two main wings providing direct indoor/outdoor access to the Den and Nest courtyards.

To reinforce “connection to place,” an artistic rendering of the Connecticut River Watershed is stained into the concrete floor, starting at the Visitor Center and leading people between the building’s two wings. This graphic provides a macro view of our place in the region’s watershed.

Children enjoy our First Flush rainwater exhibit.


A summary of the primary strategies being used to achieve net zero energy include a careful analysis of all energy using elements of the building and detailed assessments of assumptions for energy use and occupancy schedules, in addition to occupancy behavior and interface with proposed systems. While these systems focus on reducing energy, the other goals of maintaining optimal space conditions and thermal comfort for an effective learning environment were also part of the decision-making. Highly efficient lighting fixtures and light control options such as shades along with significant natural light will be incorporated. Cooling and heating shall consist of air-cooled variable refrigerant flow (VRF) heat pump units connected to central condensing units. With a tight building envelope, ventilation for the building in winter operating mode shall be provided by dedicated energy recovery ventilators within the building. A complete roof-mounted 60 kW photovoltaic solar array will provide a minimum of 57,000 kWh/year. The system will be based on utilizing high efficiency inverters local to each array group. The system will be interconnected with the main electric service for net metering.


Clean water is a particularly urgent issue for the world around us. Worldwide there is growing consensus that the water crisis – accelerated by pollution, inefficient use and climate change—will soon dwarf the energy crisis. By demonstrating the capacity and efficacy of stand alone systems that ensure clean water, and modeling a new way for how buildings are conceived, designed, regulated, built and operated, the Hitchcock Center is promoting new strategies for clean water efficiency.

bldg_scale_water_cycleRainwater Harvesting

Rainwater is harvested through the building’s roof system which acts much like a watershed does in nature. Gutters, scuppers, piping, and downspouts channel the water from the cantilevered roof through a screen filter to remove debris and aid in the capture of sediment and other small particles. A first flush diverter will redirect the first few minutes of rainfall (1/16″) into 5-foot cylindrical transparent “first flush” tanks. These first flush tanks are exposed for visibility to serve as an integral part of our water cycle exhibit. The tanks are a part of the Center’s Ecotone: the transition area between educational spaces. This public area serves as a dynamic educational space where visitors learn through interpretive exhibits and educational displays how humans are integrally connected to our watershed and the important role of the water cycle.

Water Storage and Treatment

A 6,000-gallon rainwater storage tank is located below ground and stores enough water to supply the building through periodic drought cycles. The stored rainwater will be treated after storage and before use. This rainwater is available for all potable and non-potable uses in the building. Potable water requires high levels of treatment to remove possible pathogens as well as organic and chemical compounds. This will be achieved by pairing a carbon filtration with an ultra-violet (UV) treatment system, a proven method of sterilization to remove microorganisms from rainwater. Our system will be registered as a public water supply for surface water and will be monitored by third-party professional water system operators.

Composting Toilets

Composting toilets are integral to achieving net zero water as they represent a non-water discharging system. Human waste will be processed with minimal water for conveyance. These toilets utilize 3-6oz of water with biodegradable foam, greatly reducing the Center’s overall demand for wastewater handling.

Our composting toilets will rely upon on biological and physical decomposition to turn excrement into valuable, nutrient-rich end products that can be used on- or off-site as a fertilizer or soil amendment. Composting toilets use an aerobic decomposition process to slowly break down human excrement to 10 to 30 percent of its original volume into a soil-like material called humus. Organisms that occur naturally in the waste material, such as bacteria and fungi, perform the work of breaking it down. Compost worms may be added to accelerate the process.

Constructed Wetland

Our composting toilets are paired with a greywater system to handle wastewater generated from other plumbing fixtures within the building. A constructed wetland located outside the building treats wastewater by mimicking the biological, chemical and physical processes that occur in natural wetlands.

This wetland consists of a shallow bed filled with porous packing material 
that supports wetland vegetation. Gravel and coarse sand is used as the planting medium, ranging in size from fine gravel to crushed rock. The bed will contain plantings specifically selected to survive in fluctuating wet and dry conditions and will include species native to our region and specific to our watershed and climate. As wastewater enters into the constructed wetland, 
it will be treated both aerobically and anaerobically. The submerged plant roots combined with the gravel surface and other plantings provide a surface suitable for the microbial processes that are necessary for treatment.

The treated water is then released into a leach field where it will recharge underground water reserves. This serves as a yet another great educational exhibit that articulates the critical role wetlands play in purifying and maintaining high water quality in nature.

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Hitchcock Center for the Environment