Traverse City News and Events

Conservancy Aims High, Green With New $13 Million Headquarters

By Ross Boissoneau | April 30, 2022

The nonprofit perhaps most focused on our area’s environment is building one of the greenest headquarters around. The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy will be moving into its new facility at the onetime Mitchell Creek Golf Club in January, one that will include rainwater cisterns, electric vehicle charging stations, a greenhouse -- and even goats to help eat away invasive species.

The move will enable the conservancy to consolidate its headquarters and storage for all its equipment, as well as provide space for the community to gather and explore. Installation of trails throughout the 200-acre property will also help connect the Three Mile Trail from South Airport to Hammond Road.

“I have been at this job 31 years and I have never been more excited,” says Glen Chown, executive director of the conservancy. “It’s full of wildlife. It’s central to Traverse City, surrounded by schools, in a watershed that needs restoration. I don’t think we could have picked a better location.”

The new Conservation Center will feature a new building incorporating many green elements, including rainwater reclamation for flushing toilets, staggered stud walls with high levels of insulation, and an environmentally-sustainable snow melt system. Features such as a large solar array and geothermal heat will help the building target net-zero energy consumption on an annual basis. “I told [architect] Ray [Kendra] I want this to set the standard for the future of sustainability,” says Chown.

Creating a new headquarters wasn’t originally part of the plan. The opportunity to preserve and restore the property was what first motivated the conservancy. The chance to move there was a bonus. “We didn't go into it thinking we would build the Conservation Center,” says Chown. “We wanted to protect it because it was so unique.”

But the more staff looked at the existing buildings and considered the options, the more it became clear the location checked all the boxes for becoming the conservancy's long-awaited permanent headquarters. Combining a new Conservation Center with a site that was home to bears, eagles, foxes and other wildlife on 200-plus acres made sense.

GTRLC purchased the property in 2019 with a $1.1 million gift from Don and Jerry Oleson. Construction costs are $11.6 million; the conservancy’s board set a $2 million goal to endow the Conservation Center, for a total project cost of $13.6 million. That total includes all construction costs, architectural/design and engineering costs, contractor costs for site work and sewer and water hook-up, other utilities, road work and culvert work.

According to Jennifer Jay, the conservancy’s director of communications and engagement, the Conservation Center is 100 percent privately funded. Most of the 44 donors were also supporters of its recently completed Campaign for Generations. The conservancy has $679,701.04 left to raise, and four grant proposals are under review, with decisions coming later this spring.

The GTRLC dates back to 1991, when Rotary Charities of Traverse City determined that protecting natural resources was critical to the region's quality of life. To date, the conservancy has protected nearly 46,000 acres of natural, scenic, and farm lands and more than 150 miles of shoreline along the region’s lakes, rivers and streams.

For the past 22 years, it’s been doing this work while confined to space next to the corporate headquarters of Oleson’s at its Long Lake Road grocery. “We’ve outgrown our space,” says Chown, noting the organization has been looking for new quarters the past five or six years. Its equipment, including vehicles and machinery, is scattered around several sites.

Kendra says the project entails many features to impact the environment as little as possible. Among them is a flat roof that will enable runoff rainwater to be reclaimed, going into a cistern; he says 95 percent of the water for flushing the toilets will be reclaimed water. “It’s something I’ve been interested in for years,” Kendra says. Other technical solutions include a large solar array, the use of geothermal heat, LED lighting and smart plugs with sensors to reduce electricity use.

It will also boast electric vehicle chargers, as well as showers so those who bike to the conservancy to work can change there. Another innovation is the use of special glazing in windows that have a pattern built into the glass to prevent birds from flying into them. A new greenhouse at the Conservation Center will provide a place to cultivate native trees, grasses, shrubs and other plants for use in stewardship efforts and to engage volunteers, as well as continue its partnership with the Smithsonian to help protect rare orchids.

And then there’s the low-tech side: The preserve will also be home to a small herd of goats that will keep the growth trimmed, particularly around the solar panels. Kendra says they will also help to remove invasive plants.

Kevin Russell, chair of the conservancy’s board of directors, says the new headquarters and preserve will help to realize the organization’s long-term goals. “The long-range plans are a key. The gallery, workspaces, the preserve … fit into (that),” he says.

He believes the centralized hub will enable the conservancy staff, volunteers and other partners to work together more cohesively, while the site itself will provide motivation and a sense of vision. “One of the greatest sources of our support is our team of volunteers,” he says, noting that the ability to easily come together for planning and to have a central location for equipment will make their work easier and more efficient. “We’re not a small team anymore. There’s not the physical space (at its current location) to coordinate and collaborate.

“This is such an inspirational site,” adds Russell. “It will remind people of the business we’re in.”

Chown agrees. “I’m excited we’ll be able to engage so many more people in our mission in hands-on ways,” he says.


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