Testimony to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development

By Jessica Schultz

On May 9th, the Hitchcock Center provided testimony to the MA Joint Committee on Tourism, Arts and Cultural Development during a listening session at UMASS Amherst co-chaired by Representative Cory Atkins (D-Concord) and Senator Eric P. Lesser (D-Longmeadow).The Joint Committee, “consider[s] all matters concerning tourism, arts and cultural development in the Commonwealth.” Also, joining the session were Representatives Michael J. Finn (D-W. Springfield) and RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere). The following is our augmented written testimony submitted to the committee.

The Hitchcock Center for the Environment (HCE) is a premier environmental education organization in western Massachusetts educating all ages in environmental literacy since 1962. Our educational framework focuses on five fundamentals woven though all our programs and curricula: understanding principles of ecology, valuing place, promoting resilience, demonstrating sustainability in the built environment, and educating for active citizenship. We serve over 8,000 children, youth, adults, and teachers from the Berkshires to Boston and beyond, including international participants, each year.

The Hitchcock Center receives critical annual state funding for operations and programs through the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Cultural Partner and STARS grant programs. In 2015, this funding helped support our partnership with Enchanted Circle Theater in Holyoke that won the 2015 Commonwealth Award for our STEM to STEAM project entitled Where Does Your Water Go, a storm drain art and advocacy project involving all 5th grade classrooms in the Holyoke Public Schools. A short video of this project, which had the support of Mayor Alex Morse and other local partners, can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/1TziO1R

Our current project is the construction of a new 9,000 square foot environmental education center in Amherst that will meet the Living Building Challenge, the most stringent building standard in existence, developed by the International Living Future Institute in Seattle. Currently, fewer than 10 buildings have been fully certified, in the world. This new non-toxic, net-zero energy and water building will create an historic new living environmental education center that will become a regional destination for new ways of thinking and learning. Our building will be a tool for teaching how building systems can model and mimic nature – the water cycle through collecting and filtering rainwater; energy through solar panels; and the nutrient cycle through our composting toilets, as examples. More information about our project can be viewed here: https://hitchcockcenter.org/building

The building will enable the Hitchcock Center to provide expanded programing for all our K-12 School Programs, Children, Youth and Family Programs, Adult and Community Programs, and Professional Development Programs. Overall, the new building will support 40% more program participants, from 8,000 currently to 11,200 annually. Drop-in visitor growth will increase 250%, from 750 currently to 1,875 annually, in the first few years of opening. Expected growth in service to low-income participants is anticipated to grow from 2,400 to 3,600 annually. Overall The Hitchcock Center will be able to support a 50% increase in public hours.

The Hitchcock Center has received over $1.5 million in state funding (of a total $5.8 million goal) toward our new center, including from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (DOER and the Environmental Bond Bill). This funding is a vote of confidence from the Commonwealth in our commitment to net-zero energy and environmental literacy, and as a destination for environmental education in the region and the state.

The Hitchcock Center shares the value of the MAGREEN initiative of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism of “a long-standing tradition of taking steps to preserve the environment – for our residents, for future generations, and for you, our visitors. And we’re continually expanding our environmental efforts by taking advantage of new, innovative technologies – many developed in Massachusetts.” Already we have provided multiple tours to The Northeast Sustainability and Energy Association’s professional membership, the Living Building Challenge Collaborative Boston, Connecticut and New York chapters, and architecture students from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, and Hampshire College. Our design and construction team from designLAB Architects in Boston to Wright Builders in Northampton to every subcontractor, has had to learn new competencies and advocate for change within the building industry at every step of the building process.

In addition to our own achievements in building this new “living” building, the Hitchcock Center joins well-known western Massachusetts institutions – Smith College, Williams College, and Hampshire College – in the construction of living buildings making our region the largest collection of such buildings built to this standard outside of Seattle, WA.

We look forward to opening our “new” doors to the public in September this year. We can’t wait to share our building on tours, to visitors and tourists from near and far. Thank you for your support, it has been fundamental in furthering the Hitchcock Center’s vision and mission in the community.

We invite you to join us on a tour of the new building and will make arrangements with your offices in the near future.


Jessica Schultz is Communication and Capital Project Coordinator for the Hitchcock Center. She guides on-going media relations, website and social media, publications, marketing planning and photography. She also supports the Executive Director and building committee in planning for a new environmental learning center.


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