Frick Environmental Center

Family-friendly Frick Environmental Center opens doors for kids in 2016

When the Frick Environmental Center opens next year, the children who walk through its doors will know immediately that they belong in this space.

The center’s kid-sized doors – 5-foot-tall openings built beside the standard entry doors at both building entrances – are designed to welcome its youngest visitors with open arms.

“It sends a message to young kids that this is a place for you,” said Marijke Hecht, director of Education for the Frick Environmental Center, located at the Beechwood Boulevard entrance to Frick Park closest to Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

The family-friendly architecture is fitting for a center based in Frick Park, which got its start after young heiress and philanthropist Helen Clay Frick asked her father for a park to share with all of the children in Pittsburgh.

Still under construction, the new center will be located on the 6,000-square-foot footprint of the original Frick Environmental Center, which was built 1974 and burned in 2002. The top floor can hold up to 115 students between two classrooms; a covered outdoor deck will be used as an additional classroom and event space.

Officials could not confirm a date for the center’s opening, but promise a big party with free guided walks, workshops and music.

The 2016 calendar of programming will be published in mid-January, but officials offered a glimpse of what’s to come for families during a recent tour of the facility.

During the school year, local public, private and charter schools will take advantage of the center’s four environmental education programs to supplement their STEM (science, engineering, technology and math) and English Language Arts curricula. For example, middle-school students will collect data in the park, then return to school and crunch numbers in the classroom, Hecht said. The park’s Habitat Explorers in kindergarten and first-grade explore meadow insects and plants, woodland birds and mammals, stream amphibians, and plant life in winter, spring and fall.

Learning ecology concepts through hands-on activities is especially valuable because many of the kids the center will serve haven’t experienced being outdoors in nature, Hecht says.

“We see them come in the fall and they’re not used to getting dirty,” Hecht says. “By spring, the kids own the park.”

The center promises to be especially entertaining for youngsters on rainy days, when the water steps will gush with stormwater cascading from the slightly slanted roof of the building.

In summertime, the center will host camps for pre-kindergarten through seventh grade students. Family programs include Night Explorers, for learning about nocturnal life in the woods, the Halloween-themed Bump in the Night, and the Earth Day program.

And even on days without scheduled programming, families can enjoy the center’s living room, a cozy space filled with natural materials for babies to play with and benches with kid-sized cubbies overlooking the water steps.