The City of San Marcos is planning to build a new multi-million dollar nature center in the Purgatory Creek Natural Area, near the Wonder World Drive extension.
The city has $3 million available for the facility, though councilmembers have yet to authorize any expenditures related to the project.
The city is negotiating a contract with Brown Reynolds Watford to design the nature center. Brown Reynolds Watford has offices in Dallas, College Station, Houston, and San Francisco.
The $3 million already available for the nature center includes $1.6 million in county parks bond funds matched to $1.4 million in city dollars. The $1.6 million was among the $3.1 million county commissioners awarded to the city in July 2008 from a $30 million parks bond passed by Hays County voters in 2007. County commissioners finished allocating all but the crumbs from that bond earlier this month.
Because a preliminary design for the nature center may not be available for another six months, city officials said it is too early to know what the new facility will look like and how big it will be. Officials have yet to choose a name for the nature center.
The nature center will hold educational and recreational activities and programs for people of all ages. The facility may be equipped to host conferences, meetings, and retreats. Activities for youth may include summer camps, field trips, indoor and outdoor classes, multimedia presentations, and wildlife displays.
“We’ll keep our reptile exhibits (there),” said City of San Marcos Watershed Protection Manager Melani Howard. “We’ll have separate housing for the different exhibits. Those are some of the ideas we have. Of course, once we get the architect hired, we’ll expand that a lot.”
City of San Marcos Grants Administrator Richard Salmon said full build-out of the nature center may occur after multiple phases and take 10 years. Salmon said the city will seek to involve members of the public in designing the nature center.
“It really depends on what we come up with that the public wants, what we want to put out there,” Salmon said. “And if it turns out to be $5 million, then we might just do the first $3 million of it and try to raise money for the remaining parts of it.”
Salmon said the current site proposed for the nature center is about 200 yards from the new portion of Wonder World Drive that passes through the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. The Purgatory Creek Natural Area comprises about 463 acres of Edwards Aquifer recharge land, which Howard said will provide children with an “outdoor classroom” experience. Howard said the city chose the Purgatory Creek Natural Area as the location for the nature center because it is the city’s largest green space.
“So we’d like to put it out where we have the most land, for the kids,” Howard said.
Howard said she and her colleagues would like the nature center to be similar to McKinney Roughs Nature Park located 13 miles east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
The McKinney Roughs Nature Park, which advertises facilities for meetings, conferences, workshops and retreats, features a large, divisible meeting room for up to 120 people, and a kitchen area. The park also has a catered dining hall that accommodates 250 people and features three dormitories capable of housing 128 guests.
“We like their layout,” Howard said. “They have a big meeting hall, great audio/visual. We’ll have classrooms and offices.”
McKinney Roughs Nature Park offers guided hiking and tours, summer camps for children of various age groups, and a challenge course used in team-building activities. The park offers day or multi-day natural science programs tailored to subjects such as land stewardship, wildlife conservation, recreation, astronomy, water conservation, and renewable energy. The parks is operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority.
Salmon said the nature center will be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, and will likely feature building orientation and shading optimized for renewable energy systems such as solar arrays and wind turbines. Salmon said the nature center’s location on the aquifer recharge zone means some educational programs offered there will be related to water quality/quantity preservation.
Efforts are underway to secure a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant to purchase 589 undeveloped acres adjacent to the Purgatory Creek Natural Area. The city may acquire the additional acreage within three years and add it to the green space.
Salmon said one architectural concept he and his colleagues are considering for the nature center is the juxtaposition of old and new — creating buildings with an antique look while using advanced, energy-efficient construction materials.
Howard said people will always be able to access the Purgatory Creek Natural Area free of charge, though there will be fees for some programs offered at the nature center.
Howard said the city’s current nature center at 430 Riverside Drive will remain in operation after the new facility is constructed. Howard said the old nature center will serve as a trail head for the parks and paths along the San Marcos River, featuring numerous maps and explanatory pictures. The old nature center may offer meeting spaces and recreational equipment for rent, Howard said.Email | Print