Two Virginia projects that are educating current and future generations on environmental resiliency

Working in Coastal Virginia, the effects of climate change are apparent in the rising tides. Average sea levels have risen over eight inches since 1880, with about three of those inches gained in the last 25 years. This means some coastal cities—including Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia—are expected to be underwater in 30 to 50 years. One Norfolk nonprofit is educating homeowners and business owners about the effects of climate change and sustainable features they can use to weather the elements.

ERP Resilience Lab
1 / 2 Our Skanska Integrated Solutions (SIS) team is providing owner’s representative services for Elizabeth River Project’s (ERP) Resilience Lab in Norfolk, VA. (Photo credit: Work Program Architects)
ERP River
2 / 2 Our SIS team is providing owner’s representative services for ERP’s River Academy addition in Portsmouth, Virginia. (Photo credit: Dills Architects)

Elizabeth River Project (ERP) hired our Skanska Integrated Solutions (SIS) team to oversee the design and construction of two boutique, state-of-the-art environmental education facilities along the Elizabeth River. Here’s how these two projects are shining the spotlight on resiliency for local homeowners and business owners, as well as engaging the next generation in environmental conservation and sustainable practices.

ERP Resilience Lab: Norfolk, Virginia

Built intentionally on the urban floodplain, ERP’s net-zero Resilience Lab will raise awareness around flooding. Standout features of the new 6,460 square-foot facility will include offices, meeting and education/recreation spaces, as well as:

  • A floating dock that will cater to local university/college students and other partner organizations conducting environmental research
  • Amphibious storage buildings with floating foundations
  • A circular boardwalk that will allow visitors to walk above the wetlands and living coastline
  • A living shoreline that is designed to absorb flooding
  • An elevated main building with ground-level flood proofing
  • A 40kW roof-mounted solar array to supply power to the building
  • Site paving that is designed to absorb water from rain and floods
  • Green walls that provide passive shading and reduce energy usage
  • Bike racks and electric vehicle charging stations

While there are other resilience labs across the Southeast—including the Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia and the Gulf State Park Interpretive Center in Gulf Shores, Alabama which were managed by our SIS teams—this one is unique.

ERP’s Resilience Lab, which will be the first light commercial Earthcraft Gold Certified building in Virginia, will be the only green building in the region that emphasizes practical approaches that can be reasonably replicated by local homes and businesses. These approaches include wooden building materials, rainwater capturing systems for irrigation and toilets, and large-scale storm water management, roof solar panels, and a multi-zone heating and cooling system. The lab will be built responsibly so that when the facility has run its lifespan, it can be easily deconstructed instead of abandoned.

The lab will be part of a learning park where the public can explore emerging practices in urban coastal resilience. ERP collaborated with various stakeholders to make this project come to life. During the schematic design phase, virtual meetings were held with the design team, and professors and students at Norfolk State University to gather input on the learning park and the dock that will be used for marine research. A presentation was also given to neighboring residents and businesses around the site to address any concerns they had and promote the project.

Once the project breaks ground later this year, we’re also considering hosting live demonstrations where invited community members can observe the construction of key resilient project features that can be replicated in local homes and businesses. This includes the construction of the storage buildings that will be placed on floating foundations.

Beazley River Academy Addition: Portsmouth, Virginia

Located just five miles down the Elizabeth River from the Resilience Lab is Paradise Creek Nature Park, home to Fred W. Beazley River Academy (Beazley Academy). Beazley Academy opened in 2018 and features enclosed classroom and workspaces for ERP’s education team to further its mission—teaching individuals of all ages about restoring an urban river to environmental health.

The design team, Dills Architects, offered their services completely pro-bono because they were interested in being a part of this project; this is an aspect that I find exemplifies the project’s importance and uniqueness. The project stems from growing programmatic needs as many interns and staff are involved in the planning and work activities at Paradise Creek Nature Park. ERP also hosts student field trips and a variety of seminars and workshops to educate the public about the Elizabeth River, local plant and wildlife, wetland restoration and other topics.

A few standout features of Beazley Academy include:

  • A solar electric system that features roof solar panels and passive solar features, including specially designed windows and a roof overhang
  • A concrete floor that stays cool in the summer but absorbs and holds solar warmth in the winter
  • Dual-flush toilets that use half the amount of water as traditional toilets
  • Permeable outside surfaces that allow water to seep into the ground instead of running off into adjacent wetlands
  • Cisterns that collect water for landscaping
  • Native plants surrounding the building that don’t require excess fertilizer or care
  • Green building materials, including Forest Stewardship Council-certified plywood, which details that the plywood is coming from well-managed forests

ERP recently decided to add a 2,240 square-foot addition to Beazley Academy, which will house additional flex-work student space with open work stations, private offices and an outdoor shower. The project will also consist of renovations to the existing building to make more efficient use of the space. Our SIS team is currently overseeing the design and construction of this addition, which will break ground in late summer.

Making a difference in the local community

In order to adapt to climate change, resiliency is key, and education is the first step. It’s exciting that our SIS team is getting to be a part of these incredibly unique projects. From involving the local community and incorporating highly sustainable and easily replicated features, these projects have challenged us to come up with new ways of thinking and working, which you can’t put a price on.

Last updated: 2/25/2021