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Queens Botanical Garden a wonder of green technology

By Kenneth Kowald

It is too often true that people take the obvious for granted. The Queens Botanical Garden is a case in point.

It is a joy to visit at any time of the year, but it is especially welcome in the spring, when a stroll through these lovely acres helps renew our world. Susan Lacerte, the executive director, and her staff have done an outstanding job in reaching out to the Queens community to help make this place a destination for everyone.

Now, in addition to the wonderful plantings, there is an added reason to visit the garden: Its new administration building is top−of−the−line energy efficient and worth a special visit.

But the garden’s work has been more than a building. The sustainability efforts amount to an entire landscape, regenerating the native ecology and using materials, methods and technology that reduce the negative impact of the structures on the environment.

The building’s design allows 90 percent of the interior to receive daylight and maximize natural ventilation. The materials used in the building have a high percentage of recycled content. More than 75 percent of the waste produced during construction has been recycled and reused.

Heating and cooling are provided by a geothermal system, drawing water from an aquifer 300 feet below the building. A heat exchanger ensures that the temperature is always comfortable. There is no need to burn fossil fuels on the site.

Photovoltaic cells on the roof provide almost 20 percent of the garden’s electricity needs. The roof is covered in vegetation to provide habitats for birds and insects. It also provides storm water control, insulation and roof protection.

Water is conserved, collected, cleansed and recycled throughout the garden, where there is an emphasis on drought−resistant plants, to reduce the need for irrigation. Throughout the project, rainwater is filtered and absorbed into the soil and does not enter the city’s combined sewer system.

Graywater is piped to a constructed wetland and it and the rainwater are filtered and treated naturally through the bacterial activity of specially selected plants. The graywater is returned for use to the building and the rainwater supplies a meandering water feature and fountain. Rainwater, which falls on the building, is collected and stored in an underground cistern and used to wash vehicles and tools.

No wonder the whole concept and execution have won the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Award.

A visit to the administration building is worth a detour from a stroll among the lovely plants in the garden. Indeed, the building blends so well with the landscape that it is really part of that stroll and not a detour at all. A guided tour of the facility, when available, is certainly in order for those who have the time.

With this facility, the Queens Botanical Garden has once again made itself a destination for all those interested in nature and how we can have sustained development. Hats off to all those who made it possible.

There is no admission charge for the Queens Botanical Garden, but, as readers of the TimesLedger Newspapers know, all nonprofit organizations are suffering in this recession and the garden is no exception. Among other cuts it has eliminated is its Arbor Day observance, the largest in the city, which thousands of students and teachers attend each year. But it has been able to restore its normal hours of operation.

When you visit the garden, peel off a few bucks and make a contribution to keep this jewel in the crown of Queens shining. Better still, become a member when you visit.

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