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Environmental Learning Center leads in planning discussion

January 25, 2019

Lake Havasu City plays host to tens of thousands of spring breakers and thousands more summer boaters each year. Education might not be at the forefront of visitors’ minds when they come to Havasu, but that could soon change.

The city’s Environmental Learning Center was a prime topic for discussion at the Lake Havasu City Council’s annual planning session Thursday, and the multi-million-dollar project could make Havasu a focal point for research into water quality in both the northern and southern basins of the Colorado River.

Former Lake Havasu City Manager Charlie Cassens addressed city officials Thursday morning about the project’s status. Conceived as a project under the city’s Vision 2020 economic and community development plan, the city has spent about of $500,000 allocated to the design of the new Environmental Learning Center. Phase I of the construction itself, however, will cost Havasu an estimated $8.5 million.

Cassens is a volunteer of Vision 2020’s “Pillar 4” team, which is leading water conservation efforts under the development plan. According to Cassens, the facility could make Havasu an invaluable source of research and information on the state of the Colorado River.

About 26 million people get their water from Lake Havasu, Cassens said, and the Environmental Learning Center’s primary purpose will be to monitor and maintain the quality of Colorado River water.

“If water becomes a problem for Lake Havasu City, all other efforts will become meaningless,” Cassens said. “It’s the lifeblood of this effort and the lifeblood of the community.”

The Environmental Learning Center, as well as Havasu’s Downtown Catalyst project, are being funded directly by $2 million in winnings from Frontier Communications’ “America’s Best Communities” competition, which was awarded in 2017.

The facility, to be erected at the Havasu Riviera, will comprise about 9,000 square feet of building space and 500,000 square feet of outdoor space. It will include learning and educational spaces, as well as water quality labs, botanical gardens, an event space and other amenities available to Havasu’s visitors and residents. According to Cassens, the new facility may also offer a replacement for Havasu’s Mulberry wastewater treatment plant, shared spaces and multi-use spaces. The facility could also include indoor farming and hydroponics labs to further research water conservation and agriculture.

Once Havasu’s Environmental Learning Center is operational, however, annual expenses for the facility are estimated to be about $1.2 million, while the facility will create only $825,000 in annual revenues. According to Cassens, however, those estimates are based on maximum costs and minimum returns – as the project matures, the ratio of cost-to-revenue could diminish, or even reverse.

“This isn’t a money-maker,” Cassens said. “It’s not a cash cow. It’s going to be on federal land, so any money generated by the facility has to go back into the facility. We’re hoping to get grants for it, and our next step is to prepare a kit to take on the road, start finding our partners and identify grant opportunities … grants are out there for projects like this. Our goal is to fund this without city dollars, but we have to be real, and assume there might be debt service after this project.”

According to Cassens, the importance of the new facility will extend beyond cost, and heighten Havasu’s importance in Colorado River studies throughout the Southwest.

“The reason for this project is to elevate us beyond a ‘party town’ or a retirement community. It’s a project that could take on many facets, and it could take on true value for us.”

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