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Officials working on the design and implementation of EPIcenter, a local energy education and innovation hub, plan for it to be a symbol of San Antonio’s growing new energy economy.
But project stakeholders want to ensure that the space, which will be located in the former CPS Energy power plant on the Mission Reach, is just as accessible for school children and families as it is for industry professionals.
A few dozen stakeholders, including area neighbors, representatives from the San Antonio River Authority, EPIcenter board members, and architects from Lake|Flato, which is designing the center, discussed this idea and more at a two-day design charrette held this week at the headquarters of Joeris General Contractors. The local construction management firm will be constructing EPIcenter, which also is a nonprofit entity.
The greater public, including neighborhood residents surrounding EPIcenter, will have the opportunity to give feedback on the overall project and design in late 2017 or early 2018, after the initial schematic design phase ends this summer, officials said.
“My number one priority in all of this is to make sure that the community feels a part of it,” said District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, who participated in the charrette, “and that … we’re including people and making sure they don’t feel a part of just the physical structure, but also all of the activity that’s happening inside.”
The ambitious vision for the EPIcenter project, an estimated $74 million project, includes educational exhibits, interactive artifacts, co-working spaces, an auditorium, conference center, outdoor venues, community gardens, and a restaurant, all on site.
Project plans and designs are still conceptual, but several ideas emerged among the group as key in making EPIcenter a success. Making sure the space is accessible, regarding both its physical design and its programming, was at the top of that list.
“Not only is there going to be great thought and great science happening there … it’s going to be a place where all of San Antonio should feel comfortable,” EPIcenter CEO Kimberly Britton told the Rivard Report Friday. “They should feel like it’s theirs, and that they can enjoy it.”
The idea is to have workspaces for industry professionals alongside more public areas where school groups or curious visitors can drop in and learn about clean energy technology in an interactive way.
“This building has to have this public aspect to it,” Britton said. “It means the opportunity to make sure that our public spaces can be utilized for a lot of fun and educational things.”
The group discussed everything from the site’s plumbing, electrical, and landscaping systems to programming elements in the space and how the structure will interface with the adjacent San Antonio River. Planners want to ensure that the EPIcenter seamlessly connects to the Mission Reach hike and bike trail and complements other nearby amenities such as Confluence Park, a park and natural classroom which is set to open this summer.
“The river has become such an incredible conduit for people to flow from the south all the way through downtown on the Mission Reach there… There’s a synergy that’s happening with all of the activities starting to crop up in that neighborhood,” said partner at Lake|Flato Bob Harris, referring to the Mission Reach and the greater Southside community. “What I’ve been most impressed with in this group is this desire to want to be open and inviting and welcoming to all of that and not to be narrowly focused.”
From a building perspective, the EPIcenter structure will have LEED and green concepts integrated throughout, said Gary Joeris, CEO of San Antonio-based Joeris General Contractors. The firm has worked on other renovation projects such as the Pearl, Alamo Stadium, and the Bexar County Courthouse.
CPS Energy and its New Energy Economy (NEE) partners – OCI Solar, Silver Spring Networks and Landis+Gyr – launched EPIcenter as a nonprofit in 2015. EPIcenter officials are still working to secure the rest of the funding for the project, which is estimated at more than $50 million.