The Science and Education Center was built 40 years ago


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“Planning and design of the Twin Creeks Science and Education Center followed a typical National Park Service process,” said Dianne Flaugh, one of several landscape architects who worked on the project. “It was a process that involved the input of a wide range of NPS staff, from management to those who would work in the building on a daily basis, to those who would support the ongoing maintenance and operation of the building.”

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In addition to a value analysis and approval by its Design Advisory Board, the NPS requires newly constructed buildings to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, meaning the building had to meet a variety of sustainable design and construction goals. The actual design process was managed by architectural staff from the NPS Southeast Regional Office (SERO), which typically works with a number of different architectural and engineering firms that compete for projects. The firm ultimately chosen to design Twin Creeks was Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS).

Story Highlights

  • The concept was fleshed out over the next decade, and with the inception of the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory in 1998 and the associated growth of community science and outside researcher efforts, it was determined that the lab needed to be more than just offices. It should include space for natural history collections, science education programs, and a variety of community science events.

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“Once LAS was selected as the design firm, a team composed of staff from that firm, SERO, and the park met frequently to discuss and flesh out the needs of the various proposed building functions and relationships between those functions, as well as the anticipated staff needs,” said Flaugh, who was the park’s cultural resources program manager when she retired in 2018. “These needs also had to be accommodated within the funding available. Often in these meetings the lead architect would remind the team, ‘If you have money for a 10-pound bag of potatoes, you can only stuff 10 pounds into the bag.’”

The state-of-the-art Twin Creeks Science and Education Center was finally completed in 2007, its design reflecting how the teams prioritized the various desired functions and valued the site’s historic context. The central section of the building is an open space for work, education, or events, with smaller offices and more specialized workspaces on either side. Echoing the gable roofs of the Voorheis Estate, the structure is crowned by a series of gable roof ends, and its stonework matches the foundations of the estate buildings and the site’s historic fieldstone walls. Now a visionary laboratory for park scientists and researchers, Twin Creeks Science and Education Center houses the park’s natural history collections, provides workspace for NPS branches including Inventory and Monitoring, Vegetation Management, and Air Quality, and offers event space for community scientists, park partners, and many others. The NPS employees who share this unusual space say they thrive here because they are working to protect park resources with a broad network of like-minded people — including staff, interns, volunteers, and cooperating researchers.

“We all share the same goal: to better understand and protect what lives here,” said park Entomologist Becky Nichols. At the beginning of the pandemic, Twin Creeks staff, along with most Smokies employees, were working from home — except for one air quality technician who was maintaining critical and essential air quality monitoring operations.

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During 2021, safety remained of paramount concern, and a hybrid model was adopted in which some worked from home and others returned to the office. “Despite the challenges, we have remained productive,” said Nichols, whose long-term monitoring program for aquatic entomology has measured insect diversity and stream quality in the park since the early 1990s. The detailed gathering of yearly data as part of the Vital Signs Monitoring Program is necessary for understanding the health of the park’s resources.

Beginning in late May of 2020, summer crews arrived, and by late fall, all field units were able to complete their normal data collection without incident. During the winter months, staff worked from home or continued to work on site at Twin Creeks, especially if they needed access to laboratories, microscopes, and the natural history collection. “The Inventory and Monitoring staff stayed in touch through frequent video calls, and like everyone in the country, we adapted to holding meetings remotely,” Nichols said. “As field season approached, it was initially undecided whether we could carry out our normal research with interns and seasonal employees. But, after taking numerous safety precautions and making changes in protocols, it was decided that the field season could go forward.”