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Designing a new Interpretive Center at Westwood Hills Nature Center

Latest updates

At its April 9, 2018, study session, the city council reviewed the design development phase for the Westwood Hills Nature Center Interpretive Center Project. An executive summary from the study session can be found below under project updates. The council will discuss the project again at the May 7 City Council meeting to approve the design development phase and move to the construction document phase.

View the most recent DRAFT schematic design of the proposed interpretive center. This design is a draft and will change throughout the design process. 

Westwood Hills Nature Center Interpretive Center project video (shortened version)

Westwood Hills Nature Center Interpretive Center project video (extended version)

Background 

In the late 1950s, the city had the foresight to acquire 160 acres of open space that is now the much-treasured Westwood Hills Nature Center, located south of I-394 and east of Highway 169 just minutes from downtown. The center allows visitors of all ages and backgrounds to learn about and connect with nature through a variety of programming.

However, the aging interpretive center no longer meets the needs of visitors. Programming, staff operations and public needs have outgrown its small spaces, and it’s difficult for more than one programming activity to take place at any one time. The remote location of the interpretive center – removed from the parking lot and at the top an uphill walk – presents challenges to visitors with disabilities, parents with small children and others. Providing more space and making the center accessible to the parking lot will allow a wider audience to enjoy the nature center for a variety of activities from passive to active.

The existence of the nature center, as well as construction of a new interpretive center, allows the city to showcase its leadership in environmental stewardship. The proposed project will connect people to nature through the site and building design, while also exhibiting innovative energy-saving measures. Those measures will provide a teaching tool for residents as well as providing long-term maintenance savings to the city.

While the $12 million cost is significant, it is fiscally responsible and ensures the building meets not only current but also future needs. The average taxpayer will pay between $34 – $37 annually. Public input has been considered from the start of the project – the master plan was developed based on extensive public process – and public input opportunities will continue throughout the remainder of the process.

Why build a new interpretive center?

At nearly 40 years old, the current interpretive center does not meet the needs of visitors in the following ways:
  • Spaces are too small to accommodate programming, staff operations and public needs.
  • Building systems and exterior are aging and inefficient.
  • Maintenance needs are not cost effective due to the condition of the building.
  • Public access to the building is distant from parking and not accessible.

Westwood Hills Nature Center Master PlanAbout the new interpretive center

Goals for the new interpretive center include connecting people to nature through building design and site; supporting first-class programming while welcoming the public to a fully accessible facility; reducing energy use and using resources wisely; and blending in with nature through location site and building design.

Features of the new interpretive center will include:

  • Right-sized program spaces
  • Locating building closer to parking
  • New multi-purpose rooms that can be combined for groups or events
  • Separate exhibit and lounge spaces that welcome the public and don't compete with classroom programs
  • Main vestibule open after building hours to provide drinking fountain and restroom access for site visitors

Cost

The project cost is currently $12 million, with a tax impact currently estimated at $34-$37 per year on a median-value home in St. Louis Park ($254,200).

Of the $12 million total project budget, $9.8 million is designated for the construction of the new Interpretive Center. The remaining $2.2 million includes non-construction costs such as professional fees, surveying, soil borings, abatement, insurance, moving, furniture, AV equipment, exhibitions, graphics and public art. As the project proceeds through the design phase and is considered by city council, more detailed financial information will be available.

Project timeline

2015-2016: Master plan addresses facility development and programming goals
Miller Dunwiddie Architecture created a Master Plan for Westwood Hills Nature Center using a collaborative approach that focused the creativity of the team and community on a shared strategic vision that outlines how the facility should function, how the facility should and does engage and fit within the community, and how the facility maintains a legacy for future generations.

The material presented in the Westwood Hills Nature Center Master Plan is based on visual inspections, a review of existing site and facility conditions, field verifications and oral or written comments from an online website throughout the process, community events and two onsite stakeholder input meetings/workshops open to the public.

Recommended improvements include access, wayfinding, parking, outdoor program space, interpretive features, building upgrades and other appropriate improvements.

2017-18: Public input and design development; construction plans

2019: Construction

2020: Completion of new interpretive center

Project updates

Full agendas and minutes to each of the below City Council meetings and study sessions can be found on the City Council agendas and minutes webpage.

April 9, 2018 City Council study session executive summary
Staff and consultant to present update on the design development phase.

Feb. 28, 2018 informational session presentation
Presentation about the new Interpretive Center.

Feb. 22, 2018 informational session presentation
Presentation about the new Interpretive Center.

Jan. 8, 2018 City Council study session executive summary
Staff to update council on work that has done with the architect to address design issues brought up by the council at the Dec. 11, 2017 and Dec. 18, 2017 meetings.

Dec. 18, 2017 City Council meeting executive summary
Motion to approve the schematic design for the Westwood Hills Nature Center project and direct staff to move forward to the design development phase. Motion passed on a vote of 6-1.

Dec. 11, 2017 City Council study session executive summary
Staff and the consultants presented the schematic design for the project. Based on the outcome of the discussion, the council may be asked to approve the schematic design at its Dec. 18 meeting.

Nov. 29, 2017 Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission presentation
Presentation about the new Interpretive Center.

Oct. 23, 2017 City Council study session executive summary
The Westwood Hills Nature Center staff have been meeting with the HGA design team to establish the general direction and review building and site design concepts for the project. Staff and the design team are working towards a “Net Zero” energy building as an underlay to the design.

Sept. 5, 2017 City Council meeting executive summary
Motion to approve entering into an agreement with RJM Construction to provide construction management services for the Westwood Hills Nature Center’s Interpretive Center building project. Motion passed on a vote of 5-0.

June 19, 2017 City Council meeting executive summary
Motion to approve an agreement with the architectural firm HGA for the design of the Westwood Hills Nature Center’s Interpretive Center building and surrounding area. Motion passed on a vote of 6-0.

June 12, 2017 City Council study session executive summary
A representative of the park and recreation advisory commission and staff present their recommendation to retain the architectural firm HGA for the design of the Westwood Hills Nature Center’s Interpretive Center building and surrounding area.

March 13, 2017 presentation
Presentation about the new Interpretive Center.

Nov. 21, 2016 City Council study session executive summary
Discuss and receive direction from the council regarding the purpose and desired outcomes of the proposed Interpretive Center building at the Westwood Hills Nature Center. If directed by council, staff would move forward with this project beginning with selecting an architectural firm to work with.

Sept. 26, 2016 City Council study session executive summary
Review the tour of the Eastman Nature Center held on Sept. 12 and share thoughts and observations. Council toured the nature center to understand some of the features that could be included in the new Interpretive Center at Westwood Hills Nature Center.

Sept. 12, 2016 City Council study session executive summary
City council expressed an interest in exploring other nature centers to fully understand some of the amenities that could be included in a new Interpretive Center. Staff chose Eastman Nature Center due to the similar amenities that are noted in the Westwood Hills Master Plan.

May 23, 2016 City Council study session executive summary
Provide the City Council with the results of the final Westwood Hills Nature Center Master Plan and the concepts that came out of the process.

Dec. 14, 2015 City Council study session executive summary
Provide the council with an update on the Westwood Hills Nature Center master planning process. Two designs were created by the architecture firm Miller Dunwiddie that show where the Interpretive Center could be located. After the next public meeting, Miller Dunwiddie will take all the input and finalize a building footprint, location, layout and programming needs to create a master plan.

Oct. 12, 2015 City Council study session executive summary
Provide council with a current update of Westwood Hills Nature Center’s Master Plan study that is underway. A program and facility survey will take place in October 2015, and public input meetings will be held in October 2015 and January 2016.

Aug. 24, 2015 City Council study session executive summary
Provide council an update of the Westwood Hills Nature Center’s Master Plan study that is about to commence. The master plan will serve the city as the vision, guiding principles, resource allocation and action plan to meet the identified needs of the community and to assist the city in planning for the future of the Westwood Hills Nature Center.

April 20, 2015 City Council special study session executive summary
Discuss the use of the $250,000 donation to Westwood Hills Nature Center and master plan approved in the 2015 Capital Improvement Plan budget.

In the news

Busy St. Louis Park nature center could get $12 million upgrade (StarTribune, March 5, 2018)

Speakers consider the cost of a $12 million nature center building in St. Louis Park (Sun Sailor, March 1, 2018)

St. Louis Park hires firm to design new nature center building (Sun Sailor, June 26, 2017)

St. Louis Park plans $12M nature center (Finance and Commerce, March 28, 2017)

St. Louis Park considers building new nature center (Sun Sailor, Nov. 30, 2016)