A mild fall day with the leaves in color makes the surroundings of the Lake County Forest Preserve District's house in the woods particularly pleasant.
But scenic beauty alone couldn't outweigh a series of other issues associated with the old home the district had used as its headquarters since 1975.
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The move of employees and equipment from eight locations in old farm structures throughout Lake County will take two weeks. But as of Monday, a concrete and glass office building once occupied by Motorola on Winchester Road in Libertyville became the official site of the district's general offices.
"It was a hard decision," explained Tom Hahn, the district's executive director. "It wasn't only the space, it was the condition of the space."
The home had been reconfigured into a warren of offices and other facilities to accommodate staff. A failing septic system, mold, and a well that had outlived its useful life were among other issues.
"We're very happy about that -- you can drink the water here," Hahn said of the new building.
District officials years ago began saving to consolidate operations but balked at the estimated $7 million to $11 million to renovate and expand the Libertyville headquarters, east of Milwaukee Avenue and north of Route 137 in the Independence Grove Forest Preserve.
The move of a few miles from bucolic setting to a corporate office park was cemented in early 2010 when the forest district board approved the purchase of the building and nearly seven acres for $4.1 million. The deal was described as a steal in a down real estate market.
"This is a $25 million building," Hahn said.
Left behind is the home that had been donated to the district by David Armour of the famous meat packing family. It eventually will be demolished as there were no public entities willing to occupy and maintain the building.
The transformation of the new office for about 100 employees of the district's administration, planning, natural resources, land acquisition, public information, education and registration has been ongoing for nearly a year.
Between $5.5 million and $5.8 million, including the purchase price, has been invested so far, with district employees doing a considerable amount of work, Hahn said.
In time, the Lake County Discovery Museum also will be relocated from its longtime location in the Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda with more room for storage and exhibits.
Several steps have been taken to smooth the hard edges.
A bench in the lobby is made of a 110-year-old ash tree that had been killed by the emerald ash borer, for example.
On the third floor facing the elevator, an 8-foot by 20-foot mosaic of wood recycled from a variety of old buildings is bordered by stones gathered from the beach at Fort Sheridan.
Down the hall, a photo of dappled sunlight through the trees at the Raven Glen Forest Preserve has been made into an oversized mural.
"We're in a corporate setting but we tried to create a softer feel," for staff and visitors, Hahn said.