'Leap of faith' pays off
Environmental center wins national award

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett's green gift has not gone unnoticed.

The Environmental and Heritage Center, an environmentally friendly Buford museum and science center which opened in 2006, has been recognized with the Center for Sustainable Communities Award as well as an Outstanding Practices Award from the National Association of Counties.

"It's very exciting for us, as it continues to solidify our role as a teaching tool in sustainable design," the center's Director Steve Cannon said. "The real reward for us is to be a helpful partner in this initiative."

Cannon said the county took a "leap of faith" in committing to build an environmentally sound facility before the trend took hold across the country.

Recently, Cannon has hosted government and community leaders from across the country aiming to learn about features such as the vegetative roof that controls runoff, the energy efficient glazing in glass, solar shades, waterfall used to heat and cool the building and pervious asphalt and concrete in the parking lot to allow rain to seep in.

"We kind of pioneered the model people are coming to today," Cannon said of the center built with recycled gravestones and with waterless urinals in the bathroom.

While the county designed the building for silver status by the U.S. Green Building Council, it was awarded the highest honor of gold.

"When people are calling you asking how you built your bathroom, that's pretty significant," Cannon added with a laugh. "We'd like to see this initiative in every building. I can't tell you how good it feels to make this a part of everyone's thinking. This is the future."

The awards, presented every two years by NACo's Center for Sustainable Communities, recognize the most effective and innovative county-led partnerships with the private sector, other governments or community groups in developing economically prosperous, environmentally safe, and socially equitable communities, according to a press release. Gwinnett County, one of 10 recipients of the 2006-2007 awards, will receive a $2,500 cash prize.

"I commend everyone who was involved in developing these outstanding community partnerships," said NACo President Eric Coleman, a commissioner for Oakland County, Michigan. "It is our hope that the national awards will spotlight your communities' great achievements and inspire others across the country to explore similar strategies to develop vibrant and sustainable communities."