Ellanor C. Lawrence Park unveiled a new sustainable state-of-the-art education center in the fall. The Woodlands Stewardship Education Center is designed to engage the community, especially kids. Currently, anyone can enjoy the grounds from sunrise to sunset. By summer, the center should be fully open for rentals and events.  

“When looking at the concept for this project, we knew we wanted to raise the bar to a whole new level,” said Jai Cole, the Fairfax County Park Authority executive director. “Every aspect of this facility is an exhibit that illustrates our connection to the natural world and creates an experience that will ignite the imaginations and creativity of  young people through hands-on experiences and play.” 

The park’s main draw is the educational LOOP (Learning Observational  Outdoor Pod). It is an outdoor educational play area found next to the parking lot. Like the entire center, the LOOP is built around the STREAM concept. Like  STEM, STREAM encourages knowledge in science, technology,  engineering, and mathematics. STREAM also incorporates research and the arts.  

At the LOOP, kids can enjoy playground staples like a slide, a four-foot rock climbing wall, and balancing tree stumps. They can also build using architectural elements. There is an open area to build structures from large cedar building logs and a station to create an arch from rocks. Young creatives can make music on metal flowers that create different tones.  

There is also an Archimedes’ Screw which needs staff supervision because there is a water component. This station will be open at events and during educational programs. It’s a simple machine that teaches the physics of a type of hydraulic water pump Archimedes created over 2,000 years ago. 

While creating the center, the FCPA focused on environmental stewardship, an idea they hope to foster within the community.  

“The facility was designed and built to meet the rigorous standards of the Living Building Challenge – an achievement attained by only a small number of projects worldwide,” said Benjamin Boxer, FCPA public information officer. “These standards require meticulous attention to the development of a project in seven performance categories, including place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Every aspect of the project – including the building materials, energy and water usage and production, learning and recreational features, and landscaping — involved intentional decision-making to preserve and protect the natural environment and provide a unique user experience for all who visit.

“When walking around the building, there is an introductory panel explaining the principles of the Living Building Challenge that the Park  Authority has used to guide construction and use of the building,” said Boxer “There are seven medallions throughout the structure that explain the ‘petals’ of the challenge that the project seeks to meet and gives suggestions to the reader on how they can put them into practice back at their home and neighborhood. 

Once the center has been open to the public for a year, they can apply for Living Building Challenge certification. FCPA is already planning how to put the facilities to use.  

“We are very excited to begin using the building this spring for school field trips, events, programs, and classes,” said John Shafer, manager of  Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. “We’re also planning a large community  event during April’s Earth Month activities to welcome members of the  community with a variety of hands-on activities and engagement with  the wonderful features and amenities we have at the site.” 

The FCPA board is in the process of approving the fee structure for center amenities. Once that happens, the center, which has a large upscale pavilion and an amphitheater, will be available to rent for events. The center is at 5301 Walney Rd., in Chantilly.


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