Botanic Garden begins construction on education conservatory

Visitors to the San Diego Botanic Garden will soon be able to immerse themselves into a tropical paradise.

Construction crews on Dec. 7 began erecting the $5.3 million, 30-foot-high, 9,024-square-foot Dickinson Family Education Conservatory building on the garden's property near Hamilton Children's Garden after receiving all the foundation pieces in two semi-trucks from Belgium.

The building, which Botanic Garden President and CEO Julian Duval considers a "major jewel in the [garden's] crown," is slated to open in summer 2018 and will include a 5,292-square-foot multi-purpose area consisting of plant displays, hanging plant chandeliers and floating plant islands. There will also be a 3,732-square-foot space for classrooms and meeting rooms, with a catering kitchen, an office, large restroom facilities, a janitor's room, table and chair storage and equipment rooms.

Duval said once the building is completed, it will look similar to the jungle-like setting called Pandora in the James Cameron film “Avatar”. He said it will be an ideal learning space for children to get in touch with nature.

"Kids really need to have a make-believe world where they can have their imaginations stimulated," he said. "The best place for that to happen is with nature. When I was a child growing up, places like this were magical because when children go in here, it's like going into a giant terrarium with wonderful vegetation."

He considers the center an "outgrowth" of the Hamilton Children's Garden, where children can currently explore different types of plants and contribute to growing fruits and vegetables.

The structure, created by Kansas-based Green House Works, will be completely surrounded by glass — as opposed to brick or other foundation materials — making it an ideal place for tropical plants to grow. Duval said the glass is also more durable than other alternatives.

"There are different polycarbonates we could have gone with, but glass is actually going to last longer for us and do the job better," he said.

The Conservatory will also be climate controlled using a reverse osmosis fog system and boiler radiant heated floor, as well as roof levers, fans and ceiling shades connected to an automated control system with sensors.

There will also be a 265-seat outdoor amphitheater.

Duval said he believed the building pays homage to Encinitas' history with greenhouses.

"It used to be you'd look around here and there were greenhouses everywhere," he said. "Well, now, they've all turned into human houses for the most part."

Michael Devulder, a supervisor of Belgium-based Deforce Construct, which is on-site building the project, said he believes the building will be unique.

"For me, it brings a bit of joy because I work all over the world," he said. "This is going to be a very special project with a lot of moving parts and different than all other projects."

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