New Guided School Program Building Dedicated

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) dedicated the new Wendy Repass Suozzo Guided School Program education building on Saturday, September 15 at the center’s annual fall festival.

A cooperative venture between the Friends of Five Rivers and DEC, the 2,300 square foot structure will house the Friends of Five Rivers’ popular Guided School Program (GSP), which provides guided outdoor lessons to visiting school groups from pre-K through 7th grade. Approximately 4,000 students go through the program each year, reaching more than 200,000 students since the program’s inception in 1978.

The Guided School Program building is the first DEC project funded by a significant private contribution.
The $2 million project was substantially underwritten by a generous $500,000 donation from Herb and Peggy Repass in loving memory of their daughter, Wendy Repass Suozzo. Wendy was an environmental educator at Five Rivers who started the Guided School Program in partnership with the Friends of Five Rivers. After leaving DEC to raise her family in 1983, Wendy returned in 2002 to become the GSP program coordinator for the Friends of Five Rivers. Wendy passed away in August 2008.

“Thanks to the very generous support of the Repass family, school children will have a state-of-the-art classroom that will serve as a springboard to explore the preserve’s many outdoor wonders,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “DEC’s partnership with the Friends of Five Rivers is an exceptional model of public/private collaboration and has been a showcase for inspiring and training the next generation of environmental leaders for more than 40 years.” Pictured at the ribbon cutting left to right are Matt Suozzo, Chris Suozzo, Herb Repass, Peg Repass, Randy Repass, Jim Suozzo, FFR President Rich Bader and DEC Exec Deputy Commissioner Marc Gerstman.

The new building will be LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) because of the many environmentally friendly features of the building. Designed by Envision Architects, the building’s green features include a geothermal heating and cooling system, photovoltaic cells, a living green roof (to be installed in the spring, planting pictured here), south-facing windows, daylighting skylights and a rainwater collection system that is used to flush the toilets. Locally-harvested trees are also part of the building’s structure.

The building also features an open office/lesson preparation area, classroom area and restrooms. The restrooms will be open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. In addition to administering the Guided School Program, the building will also house teacher trainings and workshops.

The GSP was the first initiative in the capital region to use the outdoors as a classroom for school children to learn first-hand the concepts of ecology. Lessons are taught by volunteers from the Friends of Five Rivers who have been trained and mentored by DEC environmental educators. For more information about the Guided School Program, see:

The dedication was part of the center’s annual fall festival, a family-oriented environmental celebration featuring hands-on educational activities, interactive exhibits, interpretive walks and more.

More pictures here!