Visitor center design gains county approval

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White Rock wants to develop a ‘sense of place’ to help draw visitors

By Kirsten Laskey

Los Alamos County Council approved the final design and construction of the White Rock Visitor Center Complex. The next step is to complete the design document, which will take about five months. Construction is expected to start in early spring 2011.

Nothing much stands on the southwest side of the White Rock Fire Station and the northeast corner of Sherwood and N.M. 4, where the complex will be located.

A span of scraggly brush serves as a blank canvas, which soon will be filled with a $2.1 million, 3,000-square-foot White Rock Visitor Center Complex and parking that includes spaces for RVs and a self-pay, automated dump station.

A transfer/transit hub will be included and landscape will be native vegetation.

The center will house a meeting room, a multimedia display room and wireless access.  Public restrooms are also included, although they will not be open around the clock.

Anne Laurent, Capital Projects and Facilities Department director, said the building will not be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified because it is under 5,000 square feet.

However, the building will strive for sustainable practices such as eco-friendly materials, rainwater irrigation for the landscaping, energy-efficient heating and cooling and plants that require little water.

The architect for the project is Mullen Heller in Albuquerque.

 While other capital improvement projects have recently been approved for this part of the project, the White Rock Visitor Center Complex holds a distinct feature.

Laurent said the White Rock Master Plan Committee, now the White Rock Master Plan Implementation Committee, was formed several years ago as a result of the White Rock community’s desire to see improvements. The grassroots initiative created a citizen master plan committee that the council supported,

Laurent said.  

The visitor center in White Rock is in a leased building in the southwest corner of Rover Boulevard, Laurent said. Having it back from the state highway makes it difficult for travelers to see. With the new building, the county will not have to pay an annual lease, she said.

Kent Budge, chairperson of the White Rock committee, said the committee worked on the project for years “so it’s a pretty exciting new thing for all of us.”

The objective of this project, Laurent said, comes from the Master Plan. She said many drivers travel N.M. 4 toward Bandelier National Monument but they do not stop in White Rock. Budge said about 300,000 tourists go through White Rock but few stop there, which is a loss to business.

With the Visitor Center, the goal is to provide a sense of place to the community and advertise what it has to offer.

“There’s just a lot of good things about it,” he said.

After a long history of simply offering residential services, White Rock is trying to transform itself.

“It was originally designed from the perspective of being a housing community,” Laurent said. “Now, what this master plan is trying to create is a gateway community for all the regional amenities.”