A botanical collection, pollinator garden, over 300 species of plants and a turtle pond are just some of the standout features of the Southwestern College Landscape and Nursery Technology Project, currently under construction in Chula Vista, Calif.

The project involves the replacement of existing structures within the college’s South Bay Botanic Garden with seven new buildings for use by the Landscape and Nursery Technology program, along with numerous gardens and outdoor community spaces that provide a learning environment for design, construction, maintenance, nursery production and all kinds of landscape-related professions.

The project team broke ground on the project in January 2023 and anticipate completion in 2024. An oasis located in the middle of campus, the space includes net-zero emissions learning labs and offices that can also serve as a venue for weddings and celebrations, yoga and meditation classes and more. The project is also an opportunity for PCL to work alongside long-term partners such as Gafcon and Gensler.

“Sustainability is a hot button topic on this project; we talk about it constantly,” says PCL project engineer Kristen Ridgers, one of the organization’s sustainable construction advisors who is working on the project. “It’s the second topic of discussion in every meeting after safety.”

The buildings are chock full of sustainable features, from photovoltaic panels providing power to a rainwater harvesting system to utilization of mass timber for structural systems. In addition, the buildings are designed with sustainability in mind: large operable windows face the prominent wind direction, allowing for passive ventilation and prevalent natural lighting; southern exposures are shaded by trellises; and a solar chimney provides natural light as well as allowing hot air to rise out of the building.

The result is a building that’s energy usage is 65% better than the American average, and a design that was awarded the San Diego Green Building Council’s Unbuilt Most Efficient Merit Award in 2020.

Another aspect of the build is the preservation of 47 native and exotic trees within the build site, particularly a large, mature oak tree in the middle courtyard that serves as a focal point for the build.

“Everything was designed to revolve around this tree: all the views from the building look out to the courtyard to the tree, and there are outdoor classrooms and seat walls that face that way. Our landscape architect even said that the way they placed signage focuses to that tree,” says PCL project manager Anna Choumakova. “That tree is the heart of the project. It’s really cool that they chose this living component to base everything around.”

In addition, preserving the trees allows the local bird population to continue to thrive — the project team has already become familiar with a resident red-tailed hawk they have named Butch.

“It’s a really unique aspect of the site because normally when you demo or clear a site, you’re very concerned about the resident bird population; it always sends alarms if you see birds in the trees,” Ridgers says.

The project team has also kept sustainability in mind in other, smaller aspects of the build. For example, deliveries for the site are being taken at the road and then materials are being moved to site by forklift to keep exhaust emissions away from the protected trees and to minimize the weight driving on the root systems.

During the demolition phase, timber, masonry and plants were recycled, rehomed and reused as much as possible. Examples include paving stones that were hauled away for use on other projects and a large collection of old classroom furniture was donated to a school in Mexico. The job site offices are furnished with items reclaimed from the original structure.

Choumakova says the project is a perfect example of PCL’s commitment to building a better, more sustainable future in the communities where it works. “As a team, we’re always looking for opportunities to integrate sustainable business practices and demonstrate our holistic approach to sustainability,” she says. “That’s just the kind of builder PCL is.”