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"Green" Buildings in the National Parks Will Save Taxpayers Millions of Dollars

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Facilities will use 70% less energy

Golden, Colo., May 11, 1998 — An ambitious program to bring energy efficiency to several of the country's most popular national parks will save taxpayers millions of dollars and highlight the benefits of low-energy, passive solar building designs.

The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is helping the National Park Service (NPS) design and build energy efficient visitor centers and other facilities. The new buildings will save taxpayers millions of dollars in construction and maintenance costs.

"The park projects will demonstrate that energy-smart buildings not only save money in maintenance costs but also can be cheaper to build than conventional facilities," NREL building scientist Paul Torcellini said. "An added bonus is that low-energy, climate-sensitive building designs can enhance a visitor's enjoyment of the national parks."

Zion National Park in southwest Utah is a good example of the problems caused when 2.5 million visitors every year try to experience nature in a small area. It is also the latest park that will feature a comprehensive use of sustainable technologies and practices consistent with NPS guidelines.

In the peak summer tourist season, almost 6,000 people every day compete for 400 parking spaces available in the six-mile upper portion of Zion Canyon, the park's main attraction. The traffic congestion destroys natural resources, frustrates drivers and makes for a less-than-ideal park experience.

The Park Service is designing a new transportation system that will limit motorized vehicles from the upper Zion Canyon. A fleet of propane-powered shuttle buses will ferry visitors from the nearby community of Springdale to a new Visitor Transit Center and through Zion Canyon.

Traffic will still be permitted on the east-west route through the park on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway.

With the assistance of NREL's building scientists and DOE's Exemplary Building Program, the parks new Visitor Transit Center will be a showcase for energy efficient, climate sensitive building technology.

In reviewing early transit center designs, the first decision was to cut the size of the building and move several visitor functions outdoors where they seemed to fit naturally with the park environment. Visitors will get information from park rangers and view exhibits in an outdoor plaza made comfortable with evaporative cooling and existing vegetation.

Getting people outdoors as much as possible reduced the need for indoor space by one-third and will save $1.5 million in construction costs.

Once inside the Visitor Transit Center people will see the best in energy efficient building design, including daylighting through clerestory windows, natural ventilation, evaporative cooling and a thermal storage wall for radiant heat in colder months.

The building will use at least 70 percent less energy than a conventional facility and will save the Park Service (and the taxpayer) about $350,000 over the projected 25-year life of the building, or $14,000 a year in energy costs.

Groundbreaking for the Zion Visitor Transit Center is scheduled for late summer. The building will be complete and the new transportation system on line by May 2000.

DOE's Exemplary Buildings Program also has assisted NPS with the design and construction of passive solar employee housing at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Parks. Other energy-smart, sustainable buildings are on the NPS drawing board for both parks.


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