People & Places

New Indian Creek Nature Center 'Amazing Space' is a green machine

Only 11 buildings have earned Living Building certification

A pergola made from sustainably-harvested wood sits outside the Indian Creek Nature Center. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A pergola made from sustainably-harvested wood sits outside the Indian Creek Nature Center. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Ask the folks at Indian Creek Nature Center about their soon-to-be-completed, state-of-the-art headquarters and they’ll be happy to tell you all about their “Amazing Space.”

That’s what officials are calling the new 12,000-square-foot facility located at 5300 Otis Road SE in Cedar Rapids.

What does that mean?

Glad you asked, they’ll say. And then, they’ll begin counting — and showing you — the ways:

- Permeable patio pavers designed to capture rainwater.

- Locally sourced limestone and reclaimed wood from a barn in Marion.

-Insulation made from sand and recycled glass.

-Hundreds of solar panels and a geothermal energy system designed not only to power the facility, but add excess power to the grid.

It’s all part of an effort to create the only building in Iowa — and the only nature center in the world — certified under the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge.

“If we’re really going to change the trajectory of the way things are going on our planet, then we have to make big changes,” said Lindsey Flannery, business development coordinator for Indian Creek. “We feel as an educational institution with a history of sustainability that it’s up to us to be the pioneers.”



The Living Building Challenge was established in 2006 by the Portland, Oregon-based Cascadia Green Building Council. In 2009, the International Living Future Institute was established to oversee the challenge. To date, 11 buildings — all in the United States — have earned Living Building certification.

John Myers, executive director at Indian Creek, said attaining the certification would validate not only his organization, but the green building movement.

“Iowa has been progressive on a number of things,” he said, noting wind and solar developments in the state. “We need to continue to push not just the state but the nation toward sustainability. Us achieving this is a feather in Iowa’s cap that shows we can be leaders and the impossible is possible.”

Myers said 10 years ago, people weren’t even thinking about zero-energy buildings.

“Even three years ago, this was a crazy, pie-in-the-sky vision,” he said. “If we get this certification. and all things are pointing that we will, it validates our donors, architects, builders and that others can do this in the future. That’s what it’s all about, pushing others to do the same thing we’re doing.”

To be certified, projects must meet a series of performance requirements over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. Certification is based on seven performance categories called petals: place, water, energy, health and wellness, materials, equity and beauty.

“Place” involves how well the building connects with nature, “health and wellness” touches on the happiness of those who enter and use the space, “materials” addresses the sustainability of products used in constructing the building and “equity” aims to ensure the building creates an environment accessible to a diverse clientele.

A recent Yale Environment 360 report notes the Living Building Challenge “is gaining stature as the most stringent green building standard in the world.”

Certification through the program is above a more well-known standard — the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — or LEED — certification.


The goal of LEED is to highlight building projects that have reduced the negative impact on the environment. Several levels of certification are offered based on the degree to which this is accomplished. By comparison, the Living Building Challenge pushes constructors to have zero negative impact and requires buildings to be net zero or net positive in energy and water use, meaning they produce as much or more energy and water as they use. Also unlike LEED, buildings can only be certified after an independent auditor determines the criteria have been met.


Indian Creek Nature Center officials are going to great lengths to go green in an effort to meet the Living Building Challenge.

For example, all of the wood used in the building is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which means it has been harvested sustainably, Flannery said.

Special windows, designed to look like spiderwebs from the outside are being installed to prevent birds from flying into them.

All building materials — except for the spiderweb windows from Germany — were manufactured in North America.

Read more:7 ways Indian Creek Nature Center is going green

A wetland on the east side of the building is designed to capture water and create a habitat for turtles, frogs, salamanders and insects. Ponds are to be stocked with native fish like orangespotted and pumpkinseed sunfish.

Three bioswales along the parking lot are to act as natural “holding tanks” for water. The 15-foot-deep features are filled with 18 inches of rock and plants with deep roots are to be added to prevent soil erosion.


Even the reception desk and a conference table for the space are being designed and built by local artist John Schwartzkopf.

Such features come with a cost.

Flannery said she doesn’t yet have exact figures on the total cost of construction, but it won’t exceed $6.6 million.

The new center is to replace a converted 1930s dairy barn, located down the road, Indian Creek has called home since the 1970s.

Myers said Indian Creek officials should get control of the new facility this week and plan to begin moving in next week. A soft opening is planned for Sept. 6 and a grand opening celebration is set to take place Sept. 15-18.

Jean Wiedenheft, land stewardship director and program manager at Indian Creek, hopes the new facility inspires children to be champions of nature.

“If you only came out here once, I might not be able to talk to you about how awesome sustainability is, but you’ll see the solar panels,” Wiedenheft said. “They’ll come into the space and say, ‘Wow, this is beautiful, being in nature is fun.’ If they walk away and say, ‘Nature is fun, solar panels should just be standard because I’m seeing them everywhere,’ they’ll incorporate that in the rest of their lives.”

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