Wight & Company Completes Design and Construction of a New Nature Center at Knoch Knolls Park in Naperville

Wight & Company and its client, the Naperville Park District, recently celebrated the opening of a new nature center at Knoch Knolls Park, a 224-acre site in Naperville. Wight & Company served as the architect and construction manager for the nature center development project. 

Knoch Knolls Park is the home of the Naperville Park District’s first staffed nature center. The Knoch Knolls Nature Center features indoor and outdoor educational exhibits, two classrooms that are 100 percent day lit, public restrooms, photovoltaic panels, a deck overlooking a reshaped pond and a green roof. 

The idea to build the Knoch Knolls Park Nature Center came from the Naperville Park District’s Master Plan and from years of community surveys indicating strong resident interest in natural areas and environmental education.  In 2012, the Park District further confirmed community interest in developing a nature center through public open house events and a series of meetings with a community review team. 

Work began on the project in March 2013. “The project was designed and built to incorporate the unique geography of Knoch Knolls Park, which includes the confluence of the East and West Branches of the DuPage River,” said Lois Vitt Sale, Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Wight. “The primary theme that emerged during the design process is ‘celebrating water,’ which is the central focus throughout the nature center design.”

The roof of the building is a butterfly structure that was specifically designed to express the effect that rainwater is being funneled into the middle of the building and collected in a 1,500-gallon rainwater cistern that sits in the lobby of the center. “A clear glass tube is attached to the rainwater cistern so that visitors can easily see the level of the water in the cistern at any time,” explained Vitt Sale. “The water from the cistern is used in the plumbing system of the building for flushing toilets and for another special feature of the center – its living or bio-filtered vegetated wall.” A living wall is a self-sufficient vertical garden that is attached to the exterior or interior of a building. 

“What’s truly unique about the living wall at Knoch Knolls Nature Center is that it is integrated into the mechanical system of the building,” added Vitt Sale. “The wall is irrigated by the rainwater collected in the cistern and the living wall conditions or cleans all of the return air in the building. Additionally, excess rainwater collected by the cistern is funneled back into the pond on-site. 

“We selected Wight & Company to design and build the Knoch Knolls Nature Center because of their expertise in developing both nature centers and high performance buildings,” noted Ray McGury, executive director for the Naperville Park District. “We are thrilled with the finished product and are excited to provide a place for indoor and outdoor learning that will help many kids and adults discover and enjoy our largest and most diverse natural area.” 

The building will be a center for nature education in the community, as the new facility is itself a prime example of environmental sustainability, targeting LEED platinum certification.  Related outdoor improvements to Knoch Knolls Park completed by the Naperville Park District include a permeable paver parking lot, multi-use trails, a nature playground, an expansion of the existing disc golf course, and a renovated canoe launch.

“We are honored to have been selected to partner with the Naperville Park District to build this new, state of the art nature center that the residents of the local community will enjoy for many years to come,” concluded Vitt Sale.