County Wins Grant To Expand Environmental Center

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Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. announced on Monday, April 30,h that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Essex County a $951,000 grant to install solar panels and develop interactive exhibits about energy, electricity and conservation at the Essex County Environmental Center.

“Since its opening in 2005, the innovative curriculum, hands-on approach to teaching and ability to provide lessons in the classroom, forest and river has made the Essex County Environmental Center the epicenter for nature education and a vibrant facility that offers a wide range of classes and special programs. We are always looking for new and creative ways to raise awareness about the Earth and our surroundings, and the development of these hands-on activities will help us begin a new chapter at the Center,” DiVincenzo said. “I commend the staff at the Environmental Center for coming up with new and innovative ways to get the public interested in nature issues and learn what we all can do on a local level to preserve our environment,” he added.

The installation of the exhibits will transform the foyer of the Environmental Center into a hands-on educational experience that is appropriate for people of all ages. “Whether you are a homeowner looking to make your home more energy efficient or a student learning about electricity for the first time, our visitors will gain valuable information about what they can do to become better environmental stewards,” the Executive pointed out.

The centerpiece of the displays will be a miniature house where visitors will be able to learn about how energy is consumed in a home and what simple steps can be taken with new products to conserve energy and reduce energy consumption. The materials to build the home will be environmentally friendly and appliances will be energy efficient. Touch screen computers and displays will explain how everything from the tiles on the floor to the insulation to the windows are made to the highest energy-efficiency, and environmentally-friendly standards. Next to the miniature house will be a display about what residents can do in their backyards to protect the environment, such as using barrels to collect rain water, growing vegetables in a garden and using a push mower to cut the grass.

The existing library and store will be renovated into two energy labs where visitors can learn about things including how a water heater works and what advances have been made to make it more efficient, how windmills create electricity, the difference between incandescent, fluorescent and LED light bulbs, how solar panels and fuel cells work and new concepts to create energy in the future. Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the exhibits or use touch screen computers to gain information about energy consumption and generation.

Around the outside walls will be self-contained kiosks or computer stations where visitors can monitor the amount of energy being generated by the solar panels installed on the Environmental Center roof, calculate their carbon footprint or learn about the history of electricity.

In addition, a hybrid vehicle will be purchased to assist the Environmental Center staff in its outreach programs to schools and community groups and an electric utility cart will be purchased for the maintenance staff at the Environmental Center.

Drill Construction from West Orange received a publicly bid contract to perform the construction work. They are partnering with Split Rock Studios of St. Paul, Minn., to design and fabricate the educational displays. The Environmental Center staff is working with the contractor to design the improvements, create unique exhibits and ensure delays are avoided. Essex County received a $951,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and is contributing $73,690 from the Essex County Capital Budget to fund the project. It is scheduled to be completed by the fall of 2012.

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