A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

It’s a beautiful autumn morning at Big Marsh, a stunning new 297-acre park hidden on Chicago’s far Southeast Side.

A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

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As walkers, birdwatchers, and bicyclists enter this oasis, it’s difficult to believe it was once a wasteland: a massive industrial graveyard where steel plants dumped slag, a toxic byproduct, for over a century.

The mills, however, are no longer in use, having been closed and demolished more than 30 years ago. In 2016, Big Marsh took their place, demonstrating how brownfields can be revitalised.


The new Ford Calumet Environmental Center, a 9,300-square-foot sustainable and technologically forward-thinking structure recently completed at the park’s entrance, exemplifies this transformation.

The $7.8 million structure serves as both a fieldhouse (complete with classrooms, recreational areas, and offices) and an exhibition space for the Chicago Park District, the nation’s largest municipal park manager.


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Ford Motor Company, which has an assembly plant nearby, contributed $3.7 million to the project. Local tax increment funds contributed $1.4 million, and the park district contributed $2.7 million.

It’s all about reclaiming an uninhabitable landscape, explains Joseph Valerio, president of Valerio Dewalt Train Associates in Chicago. That, I believe, is the main message conveyed by this structure. And it does so by employing a variety of novel technologies and design approaches. “

Instead of steel or concrete, the structural bones of a building can be built with nail-laminated timber. Glue-laminated beams and columns can be seen both inside and out.

The industrial-inspired exterior is clad in Cor-Ten steel, which weathers to a weathered patina over time. Natural light floods the airy interior of the building through skylights. The fritted glass on the building’s exterior helps migrating birds avoid collisions with the structure.

Another environmentally friendly feature is a blackwater recycling system, which collects effluent from the centre’s restrooms and processes it through a series of tanks, purifiers, and natural filters before allowing the clean water to naturally filter back into the soil in a constructed wetland adjacent to the building.

A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

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The system generates clear, nonpotable water, “explains Valerio Dewalt Train project manager Alex Raynor.” Putting something extremely, extremely clean in the ground was one of the only ways we could get it approved by the [city’s] permit process. I believe we opened many people’s eyes to the potential of these sites.

The park and visitor centre are built on acres of newly imported soil that was used to cap soil contaminated by slag dumping.

When you look at a building, you notice how it fits into its surroundings. Valerio explains, “It appears to be a one-story structure.” In fact, it’s about 90 feet tall because the foundations are supported by a series of deep piles that cut through everything and rest on solid bedrock.

Once inside, visitors will find exhibits and graphics detailing the site’s and region’s remarkable industrial and ecological history once inside.

“We wanted to make sure that the exhibit told the entire storey,” says Allison Rokusek, a senior designer at Valerio Dewalt Train’s in-house graphics department, Media-Objectives.

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A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

A Bold New Environmental Center Helps Redevelop A Brownfield

“To get a full picture, you have to go from pre-settlement to the industrial era to environmental activism,” she says. “Exploring nature, flora, and fauna before leaving with a sense of what the region can be.”

The centre is an excellent starting point for exploring Big Marsh, a park with peaceful natural areas, a rugged bike park, and hiking trails. It is also a premier bird-watching destination, which was unthinkable when steel companies dumped trainloads of molten slag on the site.

Betsy Godwin and Janet Pellegrini, both North Side residents, drove 20 miles to spend a late Sunday morning in the park looking for the Hudsonian godwit, a brownish, long-billed bird that is rarely seen in these parts until autumn when it migrates from Canada to South America.

“It’s encouraging for the city to create this and promote the area’s environmental rejuvenation,” Pellegrini says.

And what about the structure?

“It’s a little industrial,” Godwin says, “but the wood gives it an earthy feel.” “It’s all right.”

Written By Tannu Sharma | Subscribe To Our Telegram Channel To Get Latest Updates And Don’t Forget To Follow Our Social Media Handles Facebook Instagram LinkedIn Twitter. To Get the Latest Updates From Arco Unico

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