Xeriscape building turns into center for conservation

       Most Westsiders know about the Colorado Springs Utilities xeriscape garden. The roughly quarter-acre example of 400-some low-water plantings has been a feature in front of the city building at 2855 Mesa Road for about 30 years.
       But now there's more for the public at the location… and more is on the way.
       A sign of the change is evident at the front door to the building, which identifies the facility as the “Conservation and Environmental Center.” The interior used to be for Utilities staff use; now a person going through the front door is welcomed by a large lobby/public information area with numerous free handouts and rebate opportunities as well as some interactive displays related to the services Utilities provides - sewer, water, electricity and heat.
       Initial construction started in August on a $700,000 project to remodel the building in additional ways. For the general public, the biggest impact will be the development of a larger classroom. The old one, used primarily for the city's popular xeriscape classes, is is no longer big enough to meet the demand, according to Kenny Romero, the Utilities manager responsible for the center. The new 2,200-square-foot classroom, with a capacity of about 150, will be nearly twice the size of the old one.
       Other work will include solar panels on the roof, a new 98-percent-efficient boiler and a building remodel/redesign to make it a state-of-the-art example of energy efficiency that citizens and businesses can learn from. None of the building's nine conservation-oriented Utilities staffers is dedicated full-time to the center, but a receptionist can summon one of them if visitors ask for conservation help, he said.
       “Our research tells us our community wants energy and conservation information,” Romero pointed out. “This will be a place where customers can learn, get information and talk to someone on a personal level.”
       When complete (the goal is the first quarter of 2006), the facility will be the only one of its kind for Colorado Springs Utilities. The Mesa Road site was selected because the building needs upgrading anyway and “it made sense” to locate the conservation center at a site (the xeriscape garden) that already emphasizes prudence in water use, according to Romero.
       Also, with the energy-efficient building redesign, the xeriscape building will allow Utilities to “practice what we preach,” he said. “If we're going to have a facility here, let's leverage it to the max and encourage the public to utilize it as well.”
       Current interactive displays include two showers that can be turned on (one type of head uses less water), a bicycle that can turn a light on if a person pedals fast enough, and light bulbs with different energy-consumption levels.
       The final plan is less ambitious than what was envisioned in early 2004. At that time, the price tag was $4.5 million, and would have involved a more drastic building overhaul, including an addition. That plan was scaled down because its size seemed at odds with Utilities goals to “keep costs down,” Romero said. The $700,000 center should prove cost-effective by helping rate- payers - residential and commercial - learn how to use less energy and water, he explained.

Westside Pioneer article