Zagrodnik + Thomas Architects, San Diego, designed the San Elijo Nature Center with the goal of increasing awareness and education of both the nature preserve and the environment. The project allows visitors to appreciate and understand the importance of coastal wetlands and wildlife. The 5600-square-foot building includes an exhibit room, a park rangers' office, a multipurpose room, restrooms, storage, large observations decks, and a gathering area.

To achieve a LEED gold rating, the design included a green roof, natural daylighting and ventilation, storm water filtering, reclaimed water, and photovaltaic panels. More than 90% of the debris from demolition and construction on the site was recycled. The design team took advantage of every opportunity to use natural materials and incorporate the history of the site into the building. The end result is a nature center that will "serve generations to come, fit in rather than dominate the beautiful setting, and will not impede residents' views," says Pam Slater-Price, the San Diego County supervisor.

Contractor T.B. Penick & Sons Inc., San Diego, completed its scope of work in three months with an average crew of two to three people. The decorative concrete included both walls and flatwork. Visitors are first greeted by a custom 8-foot-tall Lithocrete Sedimentary Wall. The foyer features a recycled glass- and shell-seeded Lithocrete replica of the lagoon, and sedimentary seat walls. Other features of the project include custom bird foot stamps going in and out of the restrooms and sandblasted indigenous leaves and bird feet on the flatwork and tops of seat walls. The interior of the building features radiant heating underneath the shell-seeded concrete floor.