Frank Harmon Sees Third Green, Regional Project Open in Six Weeks

November 13, 2009 (RALEIGH, NC) – The new Merchants Millpond Visitors Center IMG_5190_brand Open Air Classroom Building in Gatesville, NC, has opened to the public, marking the third thoroughly “green” project serving the public that award-winning Raleigh design firm Frank Harmon Architect PA has completed within the past six weeks.

The 7,500 square-foot Visitor Center and 600 square-foot Open Air Classroom, owned by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation, is located in Merchants Millpond State Park. A Registered Natural Heritage Area that covers 1900 acres, the park includes the millpond and part of Lassiter Swamp. Parks & Recreation is charged with preserving the park’s diverse biological, scenic, archaeological, geological and recreational values and providing park experiences that promote pride in and understanding of North Carolina’s natural heritage.

The Visitor Center is situated uphill from the pond and parallel to the bank so that every IMG_5271_brspace along the southeast side of the building has a view of the natural surroundings. A porch is also located along that elevation so visitors can easily step from the building into the outdoors. Clerestory windows on the northwest face of the building allow the exhibit space, auditorium, classroom, reception area and offices to enjoy natural lighting from two sides of the spaces.

The auditorium and classroom were designed to be as flexible as possible to accommodate a variety of functions. From the classroom, a trail leads to the detached, Open Air Classroom Building at the edge of the pond. This is also the point of arrival and departure for canoeing in the Millpond.

IMG_5144_brAccording to Erin Sterling, AIA, of Frank Harmon Architect PA, Parks and Recreation wanted the Visitor Center to be as sustainable as possible since it is Parks and Recreation’s first LEED rated building. As a result, the project features a sensitively designed parking lot that maintains trees for shade, geothermal heating and cooling, recycled materials, locally harvested materials, rainwater cisterns for landscape irrigation, low voc paints and adhesives, daylighting and natural ventilation. The project is currently pursuing LEED Gold Certification.

Construction materials and devices include recycled steel structural members, concrete block with high fly ash content, exterior cypress wood siding harvested from felled trees as a result of hurricane Isabel, standing seam metal roof which allows for high solar reflectivity, daylight sensors that contribute to energy savings by only allowing certain lights to come on when needed, low flow plumbing fixtures in restrooms.

“The design of the building was inspired by photographs of the old wooden mill building IMG_5170_brthat once had a magnificent presence on the pond. The new Visitor Center’s most important space is the entry lobby located under a dramatically sloping roof supported by exposed wood beams and columns. A two story window at the end of the lobby captures a view of the millpond beyond. The floor material in this space is 100 year old reclaimed heart pine. Our client’s goal was to give visitors a welcoming feeling by using a similar language to the materials and construction of the old mill.” said Sterling, who served as Project Manager for the project.

The opening of the Merchants Millpond Visitor Center and Open Air Classroom Building comes on the heels of the openings of both the NC Botanical Garden new Visitor Education Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Education Center in Southeast Raleigh – both public-serving and thoroughly sustainable projects. The Botanical Garden is slated for LEED Platinum certification, the “greenest” certification a building can receive.

For more information on Merchants Millpond, go to

For more information on Frank Harmon Architect PA, visit

About Frank Harmon Architect PA:

Frank Harmon Architect PA, a multi-award-winning firm headquartered in downtown Raleigh, has extensive experience with projects that blend architecture with enhancement of and education about natural resources, including the recently completed Walnut Creek Urban Wetlands Park Educational Center in Raleigh, Duke University’s Ocean Science Teaching Center in Beaufort, NC, the Walter B. Jones Center for the Sounds, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia, NC, and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Prairie Ridge Eco-Station in Raleigh. The firm is currently anticipating the opening of the NC Botanical Garden’s new Visitors Center in Chapel Hill and Merchants Millpond Outdoor Educational building in Gatesville, N.C. For more information, go to

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