August 14, 2009

Fish and Wildlife Service Has ARRA Money for Architects
Two Arizona firms for two California wildlife refuges

by Zach Mortice
Associate Editor

Summary: Two Arizona-based architecture firms have signed on to projects in California for Department of Interior Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wildlife refuges funded by the economic stimulus package that became law in February. Catalyst Architecture, of Prescott, Ariz., and Line and Space, of Tucson, are designing visitor center and administrative buildings.

Across the nation, the Fish and Wildlife Service will be hiring architects to design 11 visitor center buildings in the upcoming months. Fish and Wildlife is receiving $280 million overall from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: $115 million for construction, repair, and energy efficiency retrofit projects; and $165 million for habitat restoration, deferred maintenance, and capital improvement projects. A list of all ARRA-funded Fish and Wildlife Services projects is available here. These projects are a small percentage of the $130 billion worth of design and construction initiatives that the AIA estimates are included in the economic stimulus package and are reflected in the AIA’s Rebuild and Renew government advocacy plan.

The work they want to do
Catalyst Architecture is designing a $9.8 million administrative headquarters and visitor center for the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Merced County, Calif. The 15,300-square-foot facility will be one-third visitor center and two-thirds office space where 39 people will work. The building will be LEED™ Sliver certified at least, and the FWS has a LEED Platinum rating as its goal.

Despite 70,000 annual visitors to the wildlife refuge, there is currently no visitor center on the site. For the past 14 years, refuge staff have been forced to work out of a strip mall office 10 miles from the site. A new on-site facility will save the agency $300,000 dollars a year in lease fees and is projected to double visitor attendance to the refuge, which is a wetland and grassland habitat for many kinds of waterfowl like ducks, geese, and cranes. This new facility will offer better interpretive exhibits and more ways for patrons to learn about what goes on at the wildlife refuge. “Now you go out there and listen to the lonely wind howl through the interpretive billboards,” says Kim Forrest, wildlife refuge manager at San Luis. “It’s not real welcoming.”

Jeffrey Zucker, AIA, of Catalyst Architecture, says this ARRA-funded work has allowed his small firm to grow by 50 percent and keep an eye on the horizon for future growth. “It’s always nice to look down at a contract and know two years down the line that you’re going to be able to employ people and keep the doors open,” he says. This has allowed his six-person firm to hire two people, and they’re looking to hire more. “Rather than scrambling around trying to get any potential jobs we get a sniff of, we can now focus on the type of work that we’re good at, that we like to do—that we really want to do.”

Catalyst has worked with the FWS before and have an Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract with them. They also do lots of institutional work for Native American clients. Their San Luis project will be designed in March of 2010, and Zucker expects it to be finished a year later.

Consolidating spaces
Line and Space is working on a $6 million administrative headquarters, visitors center, and service facility at the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex in San Diego. This 7,500-square-foot facility will consolidate functions previously spread across four buildings. It will also allow the FWS to vacate leased space in a business park located an hour away, saving $550,000 a year and allow staff stationed at the refuge to move out of a substandard trailer.

The new facilities will make for a better visitor experience and increase staff efficiency. They will also be located next to the Chula Vista Nature Center zoo and aquarium, and Andy Yuen, project leader for the wildlife refuge, says he hopes these new exhibits will draw people from the Nature Center onto the wildlife refuge. The new building will be LEED Silver certified.

Like the Catalyst project, the San Diego initiative is expected to be completely designed by March of 2010, with construction beginning in June or July.


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