Gulf State Park Interpretive Center

Gulf State Park stands out from other Gulf Coast destinations because of its size and diversity of preserved ecosystems. There is simply nowhere else like it on the Gulf Coast. The Interpretive Center is a hub of education and connection with nature, linking the public with the beauty Gulf Shores offers and simultaneously fostering a deeper understanding of its ecology. From the very beginning, the goal was to make this center a living building that could achieve all seven Petals of the Living Building Challenge.

The site for the Interpretive Center is currently a 1.8-acre parcel located on a sandy beach on the Gulf of Mexico, adjacent to the existing Gulf State Park Pavilion. The site is surrounded by environmentally sensitive areas and will be constrained by the existing environmental permits already secured for this site. Integral Group provided MEP, PV, and battery design services as well as daylighting, energy, water, and indoor/outdoor comfort modeling services.  The design team worked together to determine optimal building orientation and glazing that best utilize the resources of the site.

The truly unique story of the Gulf State Park Interpretive Center project is how it deals with water. The project team decided to set the goal of generating all water onsite and accomplished this goal by utilizing one of the project site’s greatest natural resources: rain. Pursuing net positive water changed the way Integral Group modeled water. Since the project does not have a municipal tap water, considerations about how long the onsite reserve would last, how often it rains, how heavily it rains, and what is the cyclical period between wet and dry years had to be made.

After creating water models, the Integral Group team realized a net positive proposal was feasible. A key challenge was deciding what technology to use to transform rainwater into potable water. Technically-speaking, the options available were not unlike other systems typically used for non-potable reuse.  Since the site will serve more than twenty-five people a year the system is considered a public water utility and is required to meet all the standards for municipal water purveyors and for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Currently, Gulf State Park Interpretive Center is on target to achieve its goal for full Living Building Challenge certification, and will be the third permitted commercial rainwater-to-potable water system in the nation.

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