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UEC’s New Home

Beth & Ken

The Urban Ecology Center (UEC) has a new home in a $5 million, 20,000-square-foot, environmentally friendly building in Riverside Park. The building, completed in mid-July, is testament to the Center’s rapid expansion in the past four years. “We had this kind of exponential growth, and the only thing holding us back was that we had one classroom and a really tiny, cramped office space,” said Beth Fetterley, UEC’s education director. Previously housed in a 1,500-square-foot double-wide trailer that did not have running water or flushing toilets, the UEC’s new space features a 100-foot observation deck, a garden above the garage, a volunteer lounge, a library, staff locker room and showers, a full kitchen, a community den, and even a “secret” classroom artfully concealed behind a trick door. The building was designed by Kubala Washatko, a Cedarburg-based firm that UEC selected for its local ties and “green” architecture. Throughout the building, signs on walls explain the green features of each room. Nearly all the materials in the building are recycled or sustainably grown, said Fetterley. The outside wall is made of bricks from a demolished Chicago warehouse. The deck is built from Atlantic City boardwalk wood. Gym floor from the old Bartlett Avenue School is used as the second-story floor, while school bleachers from a Waukesha high school make up the siding in executive director Ken Leinbach’s office. Water conservation is another novelty. “We’re trying to prevent any water from running out of our site,” said Fetterley. UEC uses cisterns to store rainwater, which is then used for flushing toilets and watering plants. The flush buttons in the bathrooms have a “full” flush and “half” flush feature so that water isn’t wasted. Standing on the top deck of the observation tower from which downtown, the East Side, Riverwest, and Shorewood can be seen, Leinbach said that “the goal was to get as close to the neighborhood area as we could,” serving the neighborhoods within a two-mile radius. The new building will allow the UEC to double its school and preschool programs. “We have space now so we’re able to accommodate more groups,” said Fetterley, adding that the UEC will now serve 36 area schools. In addition to housing classes and the center’s 10 full-time employees, the building will accommodate 250 active volunteers. “The space is very nice to have,” said Katlyn Van Dunk, a volunteer and Riverside high school student. “The one room [in the old building] was very hard to deal with, but now there will be space to run around… Different activities are designed for each room, so there are more opportunities for me to explore.” Leinbach called fundraising for the building a “minor miracle.” The volunteer building campaign committee held a $5 million capital campaign, receiving a $2.2 million donation from the Trinity Foundation of Wisconsin, as well as donations from the Jane B. Pettit Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. The Kresge Foundation contributed the last $250,000 as a challenge grant. Construction cost approximately $3.5 million. Furniture, equipment, and landscaping added another million to the cost, while the maintenance fund for the building is $500,000. UEC is holding a community grand opening on September 18, which will include music, games, and tours of the building. The Center was not meant to simply be a “model” of green architecture, Leinbach said. “Is anyone doing what we’re doing? Not yet,” he said. “But every time you build a building like this, society is so much ahead…We are not doing this to be a model, we’re doing this to do the right thing.”