NOLS cuts the ribbon on the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus

Lead donor Hansjorg Wyss, left, NOLS Executive Director John Gans, NOLS Board Chairwoman Kate Williams and WMI Director Melissa Gray cut the ribbon on the new campus with the help of Wyss’s grandchildren. (Joshua Scheer photo)

By Joshua Scheer, reporter,

(Lander, Wyo.) – The National Outdoor Leadership School held a dedication ceremony Friday afternoon for its new Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus, set to officially open its doors early next month for 60 students.

The ceremony, which was accompanied by speeches from several individuals, was moved indoors after high winds at the Red Canyon site stirred up dust.

Wilderness Medicine Institute Director Melissa Gray played emcee for the event after giving brief remarks.

“Working at NOLS, with these people, will just ruin you for working anywhere else,” she said. “I am humbled to be here with you today.”

She called the new campus a “manifestation of our commitment to student service.”

NOLS Executive Director John Gans told the roughly 100 attendees that the campus was still under construction, but the decision was made to hold the ceremony at this time because board members, advisers and staff from abroad were in town for annual meetings.

Gans talked about how the realization of the campus is truly a dream come true that for the longest time had been out of reach. He thanked lead donor Hansjorg Wyss for the challenge donation that has helped fund the construction, as well as the McMann family who donated part of the land’s value in the property acquisition.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, spoke of NOLS’s influence on Lander. He talked about the closing of the mines several decades ago, saying, “It looked like we were done.” He credited NOLS for helping Lander turn around.

“The truth is, you’ve become the backbone of this town,” Case said. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done to make the world a better place. … Thank you for saving my town.”

Wyss himself spoke, recalling when after moving from Switzerland to Philidelphia, his daughter wanted to experience mountains. She brought NOLS to his attention and eventually did two courses.

“(When she returned) She was so full of vigor,” Wyss said. “I said, ‘This must be a great group of people.'”

He said he was humbled to have the campus named after him but said it won’t matter in future decades.

“I hope the building will not be big enough, and you’ll have to build on to it in 20 or 30 years,” Wyss said.

Other speeches were given by WMI graduate and local physician Brian Gee and NOLS Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kate Williams, who thanked a lengthy list of donors.

Building details:

Following the ceremony, WMI Assistant Director Shana Tarter gave a tour to a small group explaining the building’s emphasis on sustainable design.

Because the school has set an absolute carbon reduction goal, that had to be figured into the construction of the campus. She called the main structure a “high performance building.”

The campus consists a main building with two classrooms for 30 students each, meeting rooms and a dining room. Student housing for 32 is in cabins on the far end of the main campus. Eventually, housing for 30 more students will be constructed, Tarter said.

Three-story, fully operable windows on the north and south sides of the main building provide light throughout much of it. This is to keep artificial lighting use to a minimum during the day. In some of the more interior rooms, skylights help provide light.

Tarter explained that heating and cooling is done through the floor with eight geothermal wells, which use the ground temperature to aid in interior climate control.

The roof panels are slanted at particular angles to maximize solar energy collection through a 18.1 kilowatt array and to help collect rain water. Tarter said in the basement of the building are 22 2,500-gallon tanks for storing rain water. The water will be used for irrigation. A 1,500-foot well was dug to provide drinking water only.

The building was also constructed using structural insulated panels, which utilize recycled foam. Re-purposed bead board is also used in a couple rooms for accents. The exterior of the building is made of stucco and metal to help prevent wear and tear.