The Caterpillar Visitors Center depicts the firm’s legacy and leadership.
Recognized as the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines, and diesel-electric locomotives, Caterpillar is a Fortune 50 company with an impressive global reach. The company serves its vast base of customers from more than 500 locations in 180 countries, with more than 120,000 employees working around the world.
Caterpillar’s long-held industry leadership, driven by innovation, customer service and a comprehensive focus on sustainability, clearly begins at home in Peoria. Based in the area since 1925, the company opened an engaging new facility last year in which to share its history and accomplishments: the Caterpillar Visitors Center, set along the river in the city’s historic downtown.
The visitors center shares a site with the Peoria Riverfront Museum, and together, Museum Square represents a significant new cultural and educational destination. For Caterpillar, the dynamic exhibits, diverse educational programs, and even the building itself are a reflection of the company’s leadership in the region and its strong commitment to the community.
A Sense of Community
That sense of community begins with Caterpillar’s own employees—past and present. “We wanted to build the visitors center for several reasons, including the ability to serve our employees,” says Kathryn Spitznagle, manager of the facility. “This gives employees and retirees a chance to see the results of their work. It’s a way for us to thank them, and enable them to share their work with friends and family.”
Spitznagle points to the company’s ties to central Illinois as another important reason to create the visitors center. “The Peoria area has been our home for decades,” she says. “We strive to make a difference in the communities in which we work. We want to be a part of the community, and local outreach is part of our legacy. The Heritage Gallery in the visitors center shows photos of our early showrooms, when we began welcoming visitors from the community decades ago.”
Powered by Innovation
“The facility is also for our customers,” Spitznagle adds. “The visitors center showcases the work that we do every day and the progress that is driven by our customers.” Caterpillar’s history of innovation is on full display in the center, where highlights include a 3-D “virtual reality” exhibit that tracks new product, technology and facilities development over the past century. Visitors can also design and customize their own equipment, experience an operator training session in one of four simulators, explore a number of interactive displays, and visit one of four theaters—including one that is set inside a two-story Cat 797 mining truck.
“The movie in the mining truck takes you out to job sites all over the world,” says Spitznagle. “Children love this theater—they want to stay there the entire time.”
Engaging children, including students of all ages, has been a key goal for the visitors center. “We just launched our first K-12 curriculum aligned to the Illinois Common Core Standards in math and English/language arts and STEM education,” says Spitznagle. “We started field trips in the spring and have been thrilled with the response of teachers and students, and with their interest in helping us shape the curriculum. We are now working on the science curriculum. Our goal was to launch our curriculum within the first year and we have achieved that.
“We are reaching out to more than 600 schools and home-schooling groups within a 90-mile radius in the region. We want to expand statewide and nationwide. We want to be an education destination as well as a tourist destination.”
A Sustainable Mission
The scope of the center’s curriculum also includes a focus on sustainability. Visitors learn about Caterpillar’s leading-edge commitment to global sustainability, including helping its customers with environmentally friendly solutions. Designed to the LEED Gold certification standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, the building itself serves as an important teaching tool, with photovoltaic solar panels, external sunshades, automatic daylight controls, enthalpy wheels and heat recovery chillers, a low-irrigation landscape, and rainwater harvesting measures.
Both the Caterpillar Visitors Center and the Riverfront Museum were designed by the team of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca and the Peoria office of Dewberry—companies highly regarded for advances in sustainable strategies for facilities. Spitznagle notes that the selection of the site itself—a former brownfield site that had been vacant for years—was an important reflection of Caterpillar’s commitment to both the community and sustainability. “Peoria’s downtown riverfront is an ideal place for the visitors center,” she says. “The location is directly across from our world headquarters and we were pleased to be able to make an important contribution to the downtown redevelopment. Caterpillar is a part of Peoria’s history, and that history begins along the waterfront.
“There are many features that help to make the building energy-efficient, and that objective is in keeping with our global mission of sustainability,” Spitznagle says. “The photovoltaic panels provide up to 10 percent of our annual energy. On a sunny day, they can supply up to 75 percent of our energy needs for that day. We have had groups tour the building specifically to see the sustainable measures.”
Caterpillar’s planning team also worked closely with the architects and engineers to create an industrial feel within the center that gives visitors a sense of being out on a job site. Exposed concrete floors simulate job site soil. The lower-level exterior wall in the exhibit area is a glass curtain wall that allows maximum daylight into the space, while exterior shading elements reduce the heat load and control cooling costs.
With a successful year of operation now concluded, Spitznagle says that the visitors center will expand its outreach with more events and opportunities to host the community. “We have started hosting birthday parties and renting the facility for receptions, business gatherings, business team-building exercises and holiday events. We have been pleased to see so much interest in the facility, and we welcome the community.” iBi
Mike McLaren is an engineer and operations director in the Peoria office of Dewberry.