LEED_award_picThe North Cascades Environmental Learning Center has been awarded LEED Silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council in recognition of a high level of achievement in sustainability and integration with natural systems.

“Buildings are a prime example of how human systems integrate with natural systems,” said Rick Fedrizzi, President, CEO and Founding Chair, U.S. Green Building Council. “The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center efficiently uses our natural resources and makes an immediate, positive impact on our planet, which will tremendously benefit future generations to come."

Designed by HKP architects and completed by Dawson Construction in 2005, this 38,500 square foot residential environmental learning campus contains fifteen buildings, infrastructure, roads and paths on a remote lakeshore site within North Cascades National Park. The campus includes a main services complex of classrooms, laboratories, a library and administration buildings which are sited to form a sheltered commons space. Overnight accommodations for up to 92 are provided in a grouping of three lodges. Staff housing for fourteen is contained in three duplexes and a single staff unit. The campus also includes a renovated dining hall, an amphitheater, outdoor learning shelters, maintenance and a recycling/composting buildings.  Trails leading to the surrounding wilderness enhance the visitor’s experience and provide a vast outdoor classroom into the North Cascade ecosystem.

Sustainable highlights of the Learning Center include:


  • Use of Regional Materials, or materials that were manufactured and/or harvested with 500 miles of the project site. To support local economies and reduce fuel consumption for shipping, local materials were favored. Based on the dollar value, 53% of the total materials for this project were manufactured Regionally and 57% of these Regional Manufactured materials are made from materials harvested locally.

  • Use of FSC Certified Wood, which is grown and harvested in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, as determined by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). From raw lumber to finished product, each company that harvests, distributes and manufactures wood components must be FSC certified to maintain the chain of custody. Most of the wood for the Learning Center is from FSC certified sources. Much of the rough framing, glue laminated beams and columns, cedar siding, flooring, decking wood doors and even the custom casework is certified. Based on dollar value 84% of all the wood is certified.

  • Based on the dollar value, almost 11% of the total materials for the project are recycled. Recycled content materials include cellulose insulation, metal roofing, trex decking, gypsum wall board , flyash in concrete, ceramic tile, structural steel and rebar, rock walls (on-site recycle) and linoleum.

  • Buildings use about 30% of the energy in the U.S. Energy consumption contributes to global warming because most sources of energy generation produce CO2. We are fortunate that the power for the Learning Center comes from a hydroelectric source that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere, but nevertheless, the buildings at the NCELC were designed to save energy. The Lodges and Staff Housing buildings were designed to meet the Built-Smart requirements, which means they have extra insulation and triple-pane low-e argon windows. Roofs are insulated to R-38 instead of the required R-30 and exterior walls are insulated to R-26 instead of R-19. The U-value of the windows is U= 0.34. This keeps the buildings cool in the summer and warm in the winter, while conserving energy.

  • All the buildings have operable windows and are naturally ventilated. Generous overhangs and window shading devices keep the buildings cool in the summer. Because there is no air conditioning, the energy use in the summer is much lower than it would be for a sealed building with central air conditioning.

  • By using durable materials and construction practices, the Learning Center is built to last. Many of the new buildings being constructed today are not designed to last more than 10-20 years. When demolished, the construction waste ends up in the landfill, contributing 30-40 percent of the landfill volume. We hope it will last forever, but if the Learning Center is ever demolished, the wood, concrete, and steel that make up much of the Buildings can be recycled. Wherever possible, we avoided materials like composites, asphalt shingles, and vinyl that cannot be recycled.

  • Rainwater that falls on impervious areas such as roadways and roofs flows much more rapidly to streams and lakes than under natural conditions. This rapid flow causes erosion, pollution, and destruction of fish habitat. The Resort that was here prior to the Learning Center had asphalt roads and parking areas. Since asphalt contributes to more rapid stormwater runoff, flooding, erosion and poor water quality, it was removed. This reduced impervious area of the site and new service roads are gravel, which is more porous allows some stormwater infiltration. Stormwater from roofs, instead of rushing down drains, is allowed to infiltrate the ground where possible to slow runoff and prevent flooding and erosion through splashpads, swales and rockery areas along the path of stormwater flow.

  • To improve visibility of the night sky and protect the nocturnal environments, the lighting systems were designed to limit light trespass. Low wattage fixtures on trails are shielded to prevent uplighting. Building lighting is also shielded with large overhanging roofs that prevent light from shining up into the night sky.


The Learning Center was designed for the partnership of the City of Seattle, the National Park Service and North Cascades Institute. The partnership was committed to insuring that the development of this natural site was executed with the least amount of detrimental disturbance. The goal was not only to demonstrate the utmost stewardship toward the natural resources, but to serve as a working model of sustainable practices to educate all the visitors to the site.  We hope that after a visit here, folks will come away with more knowledge and ideas about how they can help the environment in their own homes.