This year’s rough weather has battered Virginia’s Hampton Roads region. It’s not just the summer’s long brutal heat wave. It’s the deluge of seven inches of rain that fell in just two hours in July, the high waters that surrounded buildings when Hurricane Hermine hit over Labor Day, and the 13 inches of rain that fell over two days in late September.
Local newscasts are filled with images of water lapping around houses, submerged cars and rowboats navigating flooded streets.
It’s a window into the future.
But the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach has remained undamaged since opening nearly two years ago.
Sometimes, even as rains fell and the winds howled, local residents gathered there to watch storms roll in over the nearby Lynnhaven River. They knew that the building is climate-change ready, designed to be resilient in the face of the toughest weather.
“After a bad storm, community members visit the Brock Center to see how it weathered,” said Chris Gorri, the CBF’s Brock Center manager. “Severe weather becomes a teachable moment. People ask questions about the wind turbines or want to see how high the water is on the Lynnhaven River.” Some want to learn how they can adapt their own homes to better cope with recurrent flooding.
Designed and built to withstand the effects some of the worst weather in the world, the center is a model for a region increasingly at risk. The region is considered highly vulnerable for sea-level rise, given the combination of low-lying cities, rising waters and sinking land. According to Old Dominion University’s Center for Sea Level Rise, the sea level has risen 14 inches since 1930.
The Brock Center is ready. It is raised 14 feet above sea level, staying high and dry during flooding. Its windows can withstand a collision with a 2-by-4 hurled at 110 miles per hour.
Its grounds are designed to eliminate runoff. Gravel paths and permeable roadways and parking areas let water soak into the ground. Brock Center’s one-of-a-kind rainwater treatment system filters rain falling on the Center’s roof for use as drinking water. The building is set far back from the river, with a wide sandy buffer of grasses and shrubs that absorbs storm surges.
In early October, Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and up to 12 inches of rain in the region, inundating some roadways under several feet of water. Schools were closed, power was out for days and officials urged cutbacks on water usage because of stressed sewer systems.
At the Brock Center, that storm flipped over benches and knocked over a large sturdy sign. But the strongest flooding seen at Brock came a year earlier, as storms linked to Hurricane Joaquin sent water from the Lynnhaven River rushing knee-deep under the raised building. Neither storm damaged the building or its wind turbines.
The Brock Center also fights back against climate change with its residential wind turbines and solar panels, which produce far more energy than the building consumes and send clean excess energy to the grid. This energy conservation allows the center to use 80 percent less energy than a typical office building of its size.
Thanks to these innovative practices, earlier this year the Brock Center achieved one of the toughest building standards in the world. Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute requires a building to produce more energy than it uses over the course of 12 consecutive months and meet a host of other strict criteria.
As we increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change, the Brock Center shines brightly as a solution.
Sustainability means more than just energy efficiency. It means being able to sustain the extremes nature can and will throw at us.
With Brock, we’re proving that we have a choice to raise the bar, reduce pollution and adapt to climate change.
And we can do it in comfort and beauty.