Story submitted by Barbara Revard
Nearly ten years ago the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium realized the need to build a new barn for our goats, sheep, ponies, llamas and chickens. This realization was no small endeavor as these domestic animals are easily one of the biggest attractions to our youngest visitors!
As with most planning projects, we quickly had too many GREAT ideas! What began as a little red barn ended up as a new region of the Zoo, Habitat Hollow, a “place with space for everyone”. The main attraction of Habitat Hollow is My House, an interpretive storybook house where our guests are engaged with the natural beauty of habitats found right in their own backyards. The educational theme for My House highlights the beauty and diversity of North American habitats and the diversity of life found within them.
The Zoo made a commitment early in the planning process to engage community partners in exploring innovative building processes and practices. The Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (they manage our local landfill) assisted us in collecting polystyrene lunch trays from 70 schools in our area. When cleaned, those trays were an ingredient in a manufacturing process, along with concrete, to create building blocks which form the exterior walls of My House. Literally, the trash that built the House. Other green elements are detailed in the illustration below.
Certainly, when talking about living more lightly on the earth, energy consumption is a topic to discuss.
The Zoo was assisted in installing a 1 kilowatt solar system on My House, by:
- Third Sun Renewable Energy (especially Geoff Greenfield)
- American Electric Power who donated the solar panels (especially John Hollback and Paul Loeffelman)
- The Foundation for Environmental Education (especially Glen Kizer)
The panel is functioning both by producing electricity, and also as serving an educational opportunity for our guests. Inside the kitchen of the house are a meter and an interpretive panel. When visitors exit the kitchen of the house, a solar panel is visible on the roof overhead. One of the main intentions at My House was to highlight actions that our visitors could participate in at their own homes. While some families might be able to invest in a solar system, apartment owners might find container gardening on their patio the best fit. We just hope to provide options and inspiration for various green endeavors!
No home would be complete without a garden shed and ours is illuminated with a light tube, also courtesy of the Foundation for Environmental Education. The small unit fits into a hole in the roof and sheds light throughout the interior display. Guests are always surprised when they realize that the light in the shed is all provided by one small, unobtrusive light tube.
Don’t think we forgot about the goats and the ponies that started this project! My Barn also contains green building materials including reused timbers from an old barn, recycled content siding, shingles and a rain barrel. Habitat Hollow also uses an old fashioned windmill to power the aeration pump in our farm pond.
You might wonder, “Does the exhibit work?” We have been conducting evaluations for 4 years now and feel good about the overall learning and understanding of our original messages. More to the point though, we received a letter from a mother that really made us smile. Her family had visited the exhibit several times and the young boy always paid attention to the panel in the kitchen which shows the story of the reclaimed polystyrene lunch trays. When his birthday came around the 7 year old asked his mother if they could have party and not use any throwaway goods – no paper plates or polystyrene cups for him! Instead he wanted to have party which would use reusable goods. Message received!