FRANKFORT — A nondescript structure known simply as "the chiller plant" stood for years amid the grand buildings on the campus of Kentucky's Capitol.
Adjacent to the ornate Executive Mansion and across the street from the august Capitol, it housed the heating and cooling units for nearby buildings.
Today, that facility is being transformed into an education and visitor center for the more than 60,000 people who visit the Capitol campus each year.
Call it "a recycled building," said Kentucky first lady Jane Beshear, who is spearheading the $988,000 transformation of the chiller plant into a showcase for the Capitol campus. Plans are to open it in the spring.
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The wife of Gov. Steve Beshear said she noticed when she took up residence in the Executive Mansion in December 2007 that the thousands of visitors, especially schoolchildren, who visit the Capitol each year had no place to gather for their tours.
"I see our children sitting outside in the rain or cold or extreme heat, eating their lunches. We decided the old chiller plant would make a great welcome and education center," she said.
Plans to convert the chiller plant actually began in 2006 when most of the heating and cooling units were placed out of view behind the Capitol Annex.
The original idea was to turn the chiller plant into just a visitor center. It was the first lady who wanted it to be more.
She said the renovated building will have a room where visitors may eat their prepared lunches and a multipurpose room with benches, kiosks and computers for classes, conferences and meetings.
"Visitors will be able to learn about the history of the Capitol campus and energy efficiency there," she said. "It will be an interactive operation."
If money is available, she said, teachers will be able to hold classes in the multi purpose room with large screens.
The also has a system to collect rain water for use in the center's septic system.
A special quality of the building, Beshear said, will be its emphasis on energy efficiency.
On the roof of the building, which overlooks part of the Kentucky River valley, are a wind turbine measuring 6 feet in diameter, large solar thermal panels and solar photovoltaic cells that produce energy for the building and others on the campus.
"Visitors will be able to go up on the roof and see what solar and wind energy can do," she said.
There also will be a rooftop garden.
"The building is totally green," Beshear said. "Tiles and insulation in the building have been recycled. Even the paint is green.
"The whole idea of this is to lead by example."
For now, the new facility is being called the Capitol Education Center, said Cindy Lanham, director of communications for the state Finance Cabinet.
While the Finance Cabinet is handling the building operations and construction and has paid for the work incrementally over the years, the Workforce Development Cabinet is working on the educational component. The Energy and Environment Cabinet also is involved.
The Duke Energy Foundation has provided a $50,000 grant for the project, Lanham said. Additional grants and donations continue to be pursued to help enhance the final educational benefits of the center.