Why new education center at Ryerson will cost $700K more than expected

Despite bids well over original estimates, the first phase of building an environmental education facility at Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods is anticipated to begin June 1.

Lake County Forest Preserve District officials plan to offset significant cost increases by redesigning or omitting some elements of the planned facility, rebidding others, applying a recent donation and shifting funds so construction can start.

Forest preserve staff members are recommending the board of commissioners award 10 construction contracts for various aspects involving the first phase. The bids total $3.4 million, compared to an initial estimate of $2.7 million.

Project costs have increased as much as 25% due to supply chain and other issues, according to Randy Seebach, director of planning and land preservation.

"In the end, we had all this support (and) the excitement for the project, it made sense to match the grants that are coming in and get the project going," he said.

The new education center will be the first "net zero" facility built by the district, meaning it will generate as much or more energy than it uses.

"It's the culmination of a lot of effort to design the project and secure the funding," Seebach said.

To help offset the higher-than-expected bids, forest preserve staff members suggest using a $200,000 private donation as well as $350,000 available from the district's capital fund.

"There's a lot of moving parts to this," said Executive Director Ty Kovach.

The new facility would replace and expand educational programming that has been offered for decades out of two old cabins near the entrance to the 550-acre Ryerson site, which sits between Route 45 and Riverwoods Road in southern Lake County.

The first phase includes a 3,400-square-foot building with two classrooms, restrooms and a screened porch for additional teaching space. Initial work also includes realigning the entry road and installing accessible walkways and a quarter-mile educational loop trail.

About 10,000 students visit the center annually and nearly all the field trips and summer camps are based from the cabins, which have reached the end of their usable lives and don't meet accessibility codes, officials said.

Planning and design for the facility began more than two years ago with the private donation of $200,000. The same source donated $2 million for construction in November and, recently, another $200,000.

In March, the district hired a management company to assist with bidding and selection of contractors. The work was divided into 14 separate packages, assembled by construction trade, with each having its own specifications and scope of work.

Only one bid was received for the ornamental steel and windows packages; none were received for the waste water system packages. The scope of those three will be revised in hopes of generating more interest and more competitive bids, forest preserve officials said.

One board committee gave the unofficial go-ahead Monday and another will consider it Thursday. The full forest district board is scheduled to vote May 10.

If approved, individual parties who have an agreement with the district to buy and re-use the cabins have until May 31 to move them off-site.

Construction of the first phase is expected to take about a year.

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Construction of the first phase of environmental educational center at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods could begin by June 1. Lake County Forest Preserve commissioners next week are expected to vote on 10 contracts totaling about $3.4 million for the project's first phase. Courtesy of Lake County Forest Preserve District
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