Lloyd Center, Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School, and the Circle of Life

By Stephen Demarest Rath

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“The Child is father of the Man” (William Wordsworth)

During my interview with Kathryn Duff—lead architect at studio2sustain inc, and designer of the new Welcome Center, Teaching Pavilion, and improvements to the Foundation House at the Lloyd Center—she hit upon a principle that was very dear to the founder, Karen Gallup Lloyd.

“For so many kids in this region, the Lloyd Center is their first introduction to science. The Lloyd Center is responsible for that, opening little kids’ eyes; and, not only is it the first time they hear the words research and scientist, but they also get to see themselves as an important piece of the environment.”

In the 1980’s, Mrs. Lloyd was affiliated with the Children’s Museum on Gulf Road in South Dartmouth, MA. It was there that she first displayed exhibits from the Lloyd Center and began to organize field trips to the Center itself. What separated the Lloyd Center from other organizations is that she encouraged people to bond emotionally with nature, and it continues to be one of the greatest qualities of the Lloyd Center today. An emotional connection with nature inspires students to learn about the environment and actually become engaged in the research. Nowadays, even a casual glance through a Lloyd Center newsletter, or visit to the blog, shows pictures of children on nearly every page engaged in educational activities that involve live creature exhibits, classes at the newly constructed Teaching Pavilion, and hikes on the Lloyd Center trails. Ms. Duff estimates that over 15,000 students visit the Center annually and explains:

“Karen wasn’t going to create a Center that was strictly about research. It became a learning center for all. So it was not just for scientists but also for citizens of the community. Community development was the heart and soul of the original mission. Nothing ivory tower about it.”

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It is no coincidence, then, that some of the children who visited the Lloyd Center as day campers in the past are now enrolled in the Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School (GNB Voc-Tech). As juniors and seniors in high school, they will play a crucial role in the construction of the new Welcome Center. It is also important to note that while the Lloyd Center hired contractors (Chris Manlove of Swanson Construction Co., Inc., Vermont Eco-Floors and Northeast Decorative Concrete, LLC) to prepare the foundation and slabs, the students will be responsible for constructing the entire building. This includes: wiring, mechanical system, plumbing (already installed under the slab), insulation, windows, metal roof, and part of the solar panel system on the roof. With evident pride, Kathryn says:

“The GNB Voc-Tech doesn’t do site work because they don’t have heavy equipment to do that. But other than that, they do the whole building. They even paint and do all the finishes. So, the scope of their work is really impressive, not to mention how organized they are when they take on a project.”

Moreover, the students at GNB Voc-Tech are also contributing their skills to making pieces of the building, e.g., the bike racks, the concrete sink, hand washing station, and the benches in the plaza for sitting. These components will engage the students according to their different learning styles and match them to projects that promote their skills. Ms. Duff explains:

“Those students who are super-gifted with their hands, or that think visually, or who might be very artistic, will end up working on projects that showcase those abilities. For example: the one with artistic intelligence might end up working on the really interpretative bike racks; or the engineering student from the electrical program might be the one who gets involved with wiring up and balancing the very high performance ventilation system; or the student of computer science will be the one who hooks up the solar array system display. I see it as a collaboration where students find their wheelhouse, if you will—not just in the building, but also in life.”

rendering by studio2sustain; click to enlarge

When the Welcome Center is completed, it will showcase the blending of humans with the environment. The interior doors and wall panels will be indigenous black oak that was harvested from the site, or “reformatted,” as Ms. Duff likes to say. And the experience of the building will be such that “when you’re inside, you’re outside, so the building is nature.” Ms. Duff adds:

“We put everything on display. We don’t say that somewhere over there is a solar panel, and over here is the outlet. We actually show the solar panel, we show the piping, how we store it, and how much energy in terms of wattage is being stored in real time by the sun hitting the solar panels. So you can quantify and qualify in that moment the experience of the environment. It all becomes part of the celebration of the environment at work.”

“When will it be completed?” I ask.

“We purchased all the materials,” she replies. “They’ll be here when the students arrive, so I expect it will take the whole academic year and we’ll wind up completion by May of 2018.”

Those children who visited the Lloyd Center years ago—and who are now involved in the building of the Welcome Center—will have much to be proud of in the coming year. Bravo!