Hurricane Katrina Ravaged Site Goes LEED Gold

Grand Bay Coastal Resources Center

In what can only be called an amazing turn-around, a site that was covered by ten feet of water during Hurricane Katrina is now the location of Mississippi’s first state government-owned LEED certified building.  The Grand Bay Coastal Resources Center, located on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, was recently awarded a LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.  The building was designed by Lord, Aeck & Sargent in Atlanta, in collaberation with Studio South Architects, and built by Rod Cooke Construction out of Mobile, Alabama.

“Our new facility is one of the greenest buildings in the state of Mississippi, but even more important, it demonstrates our philosophy of environmental consciousness and shows visitors how natural building materials and sustainable design strategies and techniques can be used,” said David Ruple, Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) manager.  The Center is the headquarters for NERR and the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  The 20,000 square foot building will serve as a center for environmental research and education.

The reserve, an isolated bit of nature on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, comprises some 18,000 acres of marsh, waters and coastal wetlands that are home to several rare plant and animal species as well as numerous commercial and recreational fish species. The land is owned and jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Through its research and educational outreach efforts, the new facility supports the NERR’s charter to promote stewardship of coastal resources using an integrated program of research, long-term monitoring, training and education.


The Center is built 19.5 feet above sea level through the use of a framework of galvanized steel trusses that sit on top of pilings, and it was constructed on a previously developed section of the Reserve, reducing it’s footprint even more.

Another unique feature is the Firewise landscaping used around the perimeter of the site to help ward off forest fires.  The principles of this approach to landscaping provide several layers of protection from the forest to the building.  Through the use of St. Augustine grass, a Firewise buffer, and a special gravel path that allows rainfall to soak into the ground instead of running off, the Grand Bay Resource Center is able to protect itself naturally from potential fires.

“The Center is about creating a community for coastal research, so in order to achieve the feeling of community, the facility is designed with five wings that create a large courtyard with amphitheater-style seating for outdoor education and mingling,” said Joe Greco, Lord, Aeck & Sargent President and the building’s project designer. “It’s a grouping of smaller building components united through a mission to save the coastal habitat and educate visitors – adults and children – about the ecology and habitat of the region.”

The research wing includes a screened mudroom that connects the ramped loading dock to the chemistry, biology and microbiology laboratories used for research and stewardship projects that will help the DMR better understand and manage the state’s coastal resources. The laboratories will be shared with researchers from around the country who come to study the environment at Grand Bay.  Another wing, known as the dormitory wing, supports the Center’s facilitation of other researchers and educators to use the NERR as a “living laboratory,” Ruple said.  The wing includes two bunkhouses, each sleeping eight, and two private rooms for long-term visiting researchers. The wing also houses a kitchen, living room and restrooms.

The education wing houses two classrooms and interpretive exhibits that pertain to the local ecology.  The other two wings house administrative office space for Grand Bay NERR and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff.

Photos are copyrighted by Johnathan Hillyer, Atlanta.