NC Parks and Rec Dept. Breaks Ground on First “Green” Visitor Center

March 11, 2008 (GATESVILLE, NC) – On Saturday, March 15, the North Carolina Department of Parks & Recreation will hold its groundbreaking ceremony to start construction of the LEED® Gold rated Merchants Mill Pond State Park Visitors Center in Gatesville, NC, the department’s first LEED®-rated building and a model for responsible development. The ceremony will begin at 10:30 a.m.

Designed by Frank Harmon Architect PA in Raleigh – a nationally recognized leader in sustainable design – the project will include a 6500-square-foot Visitor Center with exhibit space, an auditorium, classrooms, workspace and administrative offices, plus an 600-square-foot outdoor classroom. A trail will lead from to the outdoor classroom at the edge of the pond.

According to Frank Harmon, FAIA, the building “touches the site as lightly as possible in an attempt to protect and preserve the many species of plants and wildlife that call Merchants Mill Pond State Park home.” The project respects the environment, he said, by minimizing the impact and footprint of both building and the parking area.

Daylight and views will be available in all occupied spaces, he said, with particularly dramatic views available through the two-story glass window in the lobby and the adjacent porch along the pond side of the building. Every main space in the building will benefit from natural light through at least two sides of the room, which will reduce the need for artificial illumination.

The Visitors Center will also utilize an efficient geothermal heat pump system to protect the surroundings from the noise of the mechanical equipment and to reduce energy use.

Locally available materials, such as Atlantic White Cedar wood siding, will be used on the interior and exterior of the building. “To protect the native Atlantic White Cedar species, at least 95 percent of the lumber will come from trees in the Dismal Swamp that were felled during Hurricane Fran,” Harmon noted.

Since water conservation is a primary concern, the Visitor Center will contain dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals. Collection cisterns will provide rainwater for irrigation and hosing down canoes at the Outdoor Classroom.

Merchants Mill Pond is a Registered Natural Heritage Area that covers 1900 acres and includes the millpond and part of Lassiter Swamp. It was established as a state park so that its diverse biological, scenic, archaeological, geological and recreational values could be protected. For more information and directions to the park, visit

For more information on Frank Harmon, visit


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