The Story of the WVBG Education and Event Center

The beautiful, energy-efficient building that is nestled into a sunny hillside at the West Virginia Botanic Garden (WVBG) had another life before it came to the Garden.  You might never guess that it started as a student project.

West Virginia University (WVU) was one of 20 international teams that qualified to design and build a one-story, 1000 square foot energy–efficient, solar-powered house for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 International Solar Decathlon Competition in Los Angeles, California. One day while the WVU students were hard at work learning how to build the solar house by actually building it, some WVBG Board members happened to drive by the construction site. They decided to stop and see what was going on. They were impressed with the style of the building and its low energy demands. The Board members learned that once the students had finished building the solar house, they would take it apart, load it onto trucks to be taken to California, and then reassemble it for the competition in October.  After the competition they would take it apart and it would return to WVU again. It wasn’t clear what would happen to it upon its return.
Solar house exterior and interior. Photos by Jason Flakes, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
Our Need for a Building
The Board members were particularly interested because the WVBG had been in need of a building for a long time.   At that time there was no indoor space on the Garden’s site to have a meeting, present an educational talk, take shelter in the case of a storm, warm up after a brisk winter walk, or conduct WVBG’s business from an office right on the Garden’s site. There were no restrooms – a Porta Jon had to suffice. All the official records of the organization and all the canopies, chairs, and tables, etc. needed for events were stored at Board members’ homes.

A small, multipurpose, energy-efficient “starter” building could fulfill many of these needs and be a presence at the Garden.  By 2013 some progress had been made toward the goal of getting a building.  Prospective functions of the building were identified, preliminary plans were drawn up, a fundraiser was held, and an extremely generous anonymous donor and the West Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association made significant donations in support of a multipurpose building. No construction had started yet however.

Then the WVBG Board members saw the solar house. Could this could become the multipurpose, energy-efficient building we needed?

Negotiations were held after the solar house returned from the competition and WVU generously donated the solar house components to the WVBG.  They arrived at the Garden in July of 2014.
Adapting the Solar House to Our Site
The solar house was designed to be built on a flat site. The optimal WVBG site for maximizing the solar gain was on the side of a hill. The useful space in the building could be doubled by adding a bottom floor beneath the solar house which would have walk-out access to the lower hillside. Architect Larry Martin was enlisted to redesign the building to straddle the hill and plan for all the changes that would be needed to adapt the building to the site and the objectives of the WVBG.  Construction estimates were sought from a number of contractors and March-Westin’s Back East division was chosen to fabricate the building.
Construction started late in 2015 and the grand opening celebration was held in June of 2016.
Under Construction: 1. West side of Welcome Center showing rough opening where the main entrance doors will be located. 2. South side of Welcome Center. The large openings are for sliding glass doors. Smaller doorways to the right will be the entrances to the restrooms. Photos by Linda Bagby.
Funding for the Project
Several grants helped to supply our needs to get the facility up and running. Office furniture and equipment, dry wall for the lower level, cabinets and countertops for the lower level kitchenette/ credenza and a vegetated roof were funded with two grants from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust. The lower level of the building became the WVBG Education Center with help from an Oakland Foundation grant that funded the LED lighting and later, replacement chairs and a storage rack.  The Mon-Cheat District Garden Club provided the projector that is used for audio-visual presentations, and the room-darkening shades make it possible to see the screen during daylight lectures.

The beautiful stone-look finishing of the exposed foundation walls was generously donated by the Gary Nicholas and family in memory of long-time Board member, neighbor, and avid Garden advocate Jo Ann Nicholas.  The City of Morgantown helped to enlarge the useable space around the building by funding the large paver patio off the Education Center.

The building that is now known as the Education and Event Center (EEC) serves the WVBG in a variety of ways. What originally were bedrooms are now the offices for the Executive Director, Administrative Assistant, Education Director, and Development Director. The Board and its committees have a place for their meetings. Summer nature camps, workshops, and educational lectures make good use of the Education Center. The storage area provides essential space for the chairs, tables, canopies, tablecloths, and assorted other supplies needed for the activities of the Garden. Importantly, the building now has restrooms with real indoor plumbing for everyone’s comfort!

Numerous events such as our fundraising dinner series make use of the multipurpose space on the upper floor which often spill out onto the 1000+ square foot deck which is decorated with elaborate plantings in pots.  Kitchenettes on both floors offer basic food preparation space. The building is a lovely venue that can be rented for small weddings, showers, birthday parties and other events.

New Garden Features to Support the Look and Function of the EEC

Outside the building, beautiful gardens now grace the hillside between the lower parking lot and the building. The garden was designed and installed by former Executive Director, Bill Mills and is named for the donors, Karl and Pam Yagle. Karl was a WVBG Board member and Treasurer for many years and both Karl and Pam have been long-time members and garden supporters. Our newly renovated event lawn, which was funded by a grant from the EQT Foundation, is directly adjacent to the Event and Education Center making it very convenient to transition between indoor and outdoor portions of events. Recent installed outdoor lighting makes it feasible to have evening activities at the Garden; this improvement was enabled by funds from the City of Morgantown.

Having this building has made a huge difference to the West Virginia Botanic Garden. We very much appreciate all the generous gifts that have made it possible for all of us to use and enjoy this wonderful asset to the Garden.
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