The Sea Scouts Rise Again

September 11, 2008

A derelict historic building on the Palo Alto waterfront is about to find new life: As the expanded home of the 36-year-old nonprofit Environmental Volunteers, which offers hands-on science learning to thousands of South Bay schoolchildren each year. Now the group will put its teaching into practice by moving its headquarters to a fully recycled structure that models green building standards.

Now condemned and prone to flooding, the structure was abandoned 17 years ago. But the Sea Scout building, constructed in 1941, once housed a division of the Boy Scouts of America focused on nautical adventures for young people. The building sits on a marshy inlet known as “the duck pond area” in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, off of Embarcadero Road. Shaped like a boat, the building embodies a “streamlined modern” architectural aesthetic that renovators will work to preserve.Getting started with restoration has meant seeking approval from several city, state, and federal agencies, as well as raising millions in funds. However, Environmental Volunteers (EV) couldn’t be happier to take on such an involved plan. “It’s the ultimate recycling project,” said Executive Director Allan Berkowitz. “We are reusing an entire building and incorporating green construction elements such as the lighting, heating, and ventilation systems, enabling our new home to serve as a demonstration of our mission to inspire environmental stewardship.”

In addition to providing the public with wildlife viewing programs and nature photography exhibits, the building will house the organization’s staff. Once they move into the new building, board member Carol Broadbent Fields says the organization hopes to launch “a new suite of programs” to get more students involved directly with the Baylands Preserve.”The EcoCenter itself is going to be a place for the EV team to develop new programs, to train the volunteers, and to maintain materials and kits. It’s sort of that nucleus of program development,” says Broadbent Fields.

What’s more, the project will mend a broken link in the Bay Trail, allowing cyclists and hikers to cross right over the building’s front porch. This could lead the EV to create new programs for passing hikers, bikers and joggers.What’s the draw at this unusual building and unique habitat? “It’s at the intersection of history, education, and the environment,” says Broadbent Fields, “and that appeals to Bay Area people. That confluence doesn’t happen very often.”

The Packard Foundation kicked off fundraising efforts for the project with a $1 million grant. So far, Environmental Volunteers has raised about half of the $4 million needed.There will be a public groundbreaking ceremony on September 14, 2008. Once building starts in October, a webcam will be installed so that visitors to the group’s website ( can track the renovation’s progress. Sign up for the EV newsletter by emailing, or call (650)961-0545 to learn about volunteering as a docent.

About the Author

Laura Hautala is a freelance reporter based in Oakland.

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