After years of design and community input, work on the $18.4 million Frick Environmental Center at Frick Park is underway.

The center will be a hub for community events and learning opportunities, offering students and adults hands-on experiences with access to Frick Park’s surrounding woodlands. Features include indoor learning spaces, a reception area, offices and an amphitheater built into a hillside.

The building will meet the LEED Platinum Standards for green buildings and is expected to pass the Living Building Challenge, which requires that a project function as efficiently as a flower. The design incorporates solar panels and a geothermal heating and cooling system, and captures rainwater for irrigation and reuse, fully supporting its own water and energy needs.

“We wanted to have this center strike a balance with and embody the cutting-edge thinking that Pittsburgh has been known for in green buildings,” says Heather Sage, director of community projects for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy. “What we see in the final design is a blend of the very practical and the very visionary.”

The 15,500 square-foot interior will have a footprint of 6,000 square feet due to its vertical design, giving it about 30 percent more usable space than the previous environmental center. Public officials and community members have been looking forward to the new center since the previous one burned down in 2002.

“There has been an ongoing conversation for the past 12 years about what the new center would look like and what the future of the site would be,” Sage says.

The Environmental Center’s formal community input process began in 2011 after the City of Pittsburgh and Parks Conservancy secured funding for the design. To date, there have been 34 community input sessions involving over 1,000 people from surrounding neighborhoods and throughout the region.

“We’ve had years’ worth of input from the immediate community, the schools, children, parents and community groups that have used Frick Park for years; stakeholders across the spectrum,” Sage says.

The preparation phase began August 4 with crews fencing in the construction area, demolishing and removing the remains of the old environmental center and detouring trails around the site to prepare for autumn construction. While construction on the center is tentatively slated for completion in 2016, officials say it’s too early to pin down an exact completion date.

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is designing the building, LaQuatra Bonci Associates is handling the landscape architecture and PJ Dick is serving as the general contractor.