This project was to develop the first visitor center for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area located in the Los Angeles, California area. The previous visitor center was across from a shopping mall in rental space at park headquarters in Thousand Oaks. The new facility is centrally located in the park at a much more appropriate natural and cultural resource setting. It is a partnership project with the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, which is a local land conservation and park agency. It is also a joint facility with California State Parks.
The facility was designed in 2010 and constructed in 2011 using Recovery Act money. The exhibits were installed in April 2012, and the facility opened to the public in May.
It is the first net-zero visitor center completed in the National Park System, achieving the federal standard for 2030 eighteen years ahead of time. A grid-tied 94 kW photo voltaic (PV) system provides all the energy needs for the facility over the course of a year. It is heated and cooled by a ground and water source heat pump system. The facility includes extensive use of natural lighting, occupancy sensors, and a daylight dimming system for the artificial lighting. It is the first all-LED lit facility built in the National Park System.
The facility's PV system is producing more power than what is being used at the visitor center, making it a "net-zero plus" facility, which not only completely offsets the carbon footprint of the facility, but also indirectly offsets the NPS carbon footprint elsewhere in the park.
As a visitor center in the midst of 20 million people it provides a showcase in environmental design and sustainability. Park visitors can see real world examples of how to save energy, such as the generous use of tubular skylights for natural lighting. As an aside it is also a showcase for American made products. For example, the state-of-the-art SunPower PV panels were built in California.
The lighting system power requirement calculates out to under 0.5 watts per square foot, which is very low considering about 2/3rds of the building has museum quality exhibits that require extensive illumination. Actual energy use is lower because of the occupancy sensors and daylight dimming system. This is the first application of occupancy sensors and daylight dimming known to exist for an exhibit function.
The facility received a LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council in May 2012. It also received a Savings by Design Award from Southern California Edison.