Building of the Lake Võrtsjärve Visitor Centre


Building of the Lake Võrtsjärve Visitor Centre in the Jõesuu recreation area in the village of Vaibla

In 2009, the building of the Lake Võrtsjärve Visitor Centre was completed. Commissioned by the Lake Võrtsjärve Foundation and built in the Jõesuu recreation area with support from the EU Structural Funds, the building was designed by the architect Rene Valner and built using mainly natural materials. It was erected on the historical site of the tavern of Võisiku manor. From the foundation to the interior, the Visitor Centre was completed by the local contractors Almar OÜ. Construction work on the building was carried out continuously over ten months, from September 2008 to June 2009. The greatest disturbance in the process was caused by a snowstorm that broke out in late November, for some time halting work on the exterior of the building. The process was also complicated by an extraordinarily warm January and high water level in the lake, which cut off the only access road.

The building of the Visitor Centre divides into two 1.5-storey volumes, the main building and the auxiliary building, which are interconnected with a 1.1 metre long roof at ground floor ceiling level. Both buildings are wooden structures of glued laminated timber beams erected on a strip foundation of lightweight concrete blocks resting on a concrete slab. The height of the buildings at the peak of the gable is 8.45 m and their combined footprint 143.9 m². The ground floor of the main building houses public spaces: a reception area, toilets, showers and a kitchen/meeting room. On the first floor, there is an exhibit space that introduces Lake Võrtsjärve and a conference room. The auxiliary building is not heated and is used mainly as storage space for firewood, garden furniture, etc.

At ground floor level, the main building’s floor is thermally insulated with lightweight gravel to the depth of 400 mm; the outer perimeter of the foundation is insulated with 50 mm sheets of expanded polystyrene and finished with socle plaster containing iron oxide. For external wall insulation, carefully selected packs of straw, 350 mm thick and of uniform density, were used. On both sides, the straw packs have been covered with 20 mm of clay plaster to provide wind protection on the outside and form a vapour barrier on the inside. Used intermittently for the exterior finishing of the different walls of the building are a vertical cladding of rough sawn timber boards with RPL-profile and three-layered wooden shingles made from fir and treated with two coats of linseed oil. The roof is supported by a nailplate truss structure and also covered with three-layered fir shingles finished with linseed oil. For soundproofing, the ceilings in the building were insulated using a mixture of clay and straw and 50 to 95 cm thick reed mats were installed in the partitioning walls. In the dry rooms, HLL-profile fir planks are used as flooring. The interior surfaces of the external walls that run along the longitudinal axis of the building are finished with vertical RPL-profile boards painted in light green, while the interior surfaces of the walls perpendicular to the axis of the building are finished with earthen plaster. In the wet rooms, the roughened fired clay tiles were used for floors and walls, with waterproof plywood installed underneath for resistance to moisture. The ceilings of the rooms are covered with RPL-profile boarding, perpendicular to the axis of the building, and finished with white paint. For heating, a fireplace located in the ground floor meeting room was built and two electrical air-source heat pumps were installed for additional heating capacity. As the air-source heat pumps soon turned out to be inefficient – using a lot of electricity but producing little heat – a convenient and sustainable ground-source system was installed in 2011. Its efficiency is further increased by the placement of the heat exchanger in the wet soil rich in clay. The drinking water for the building is drawn from a central drilled well. The gravity sewer system flows through an external pipeline to a septic tank and onwards to a sewage treatment unit. The expected lifespan of the building is 50 years. In 2009, the building was among the ten nominees for the best wooden structure in Estonia, without, however, winning the competition.

Today, the Lake Võrtsjärve Visitor Centre annually receives more than 10,000 visitors, among them both domestic and foreign tourists, school children, groups of co-workers and friends. Visitors are mainly interested in the tourist activities available in the Lake Võrtsjärve district; they come to spend their free time in the Jõesuu recreation area, visit the bird watching tower, take a trip on the lake in a traditional sailboat (kalepurjekas), or to hold seminars or meetings in the Visitor Centre. A tourist information point is open. Future plans include setting up in the first floor exhibit space a display of the most common birds in the Lake Võrtsjärve district.

As up to now visitors have mainly been arriving during the summer season from May to September, our visitor numbers can doubtless be multiplied by providing activities in the building also during low season.