Forest district will pursue grants for new environmental education center at Ryerson Woods
Planning the future of the historic Adlai E. Stevenson Home grabbed the attention, but a shift of $2 million to the Lake County Forest Preserve District's current project list is key to a new education center at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area.
Both are part of capital improvement plans approved Tuesday by forest district commissioners.
The district's 10-year capital improvement plan is adjusted annually. District officials had suggested adding $100,000 to the 2022 program for a Stevenson master plan that included demolition of the renowned statesman's home in Mettawa as an option. However, word of a $1.1 million state grant appears to have taken that possibility off the table and cooled debate about how best uphold Stevenson's legacy.
As the grant is still pending, funds for a master plan remained in the capital improvement plan for next year. Details of how that money will be used will be determined if the grant comes through as expected.
Of more immediate impact, officials also had recommended shifting $2 million in the capital improvement plan from 2022 to this year for the Ryerson Woods Environmental Education Facility. The money would be used to match grants and/or donations sought for new facilities and site improvements.
Ryerson is a 550-acre site between Route 45 and Riverwoods Road in southern Lake County. Before the pandemic, about 10,000 students annually participated in educational programs there.
Forest district planners have been working with architects on the facility design and related improvements to replace aging cabins that had been used as classrooms.
That work was made possible by a $200,000 donation secured by the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves. Executive Director Rebekah Snyder said the $2 million matching funds are critical to securing outside grants from two potential sources. One is through the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation for its Net Zero Energy Building Program, and the other is from a private foundation, Snyder said.
As planned, the cabins would be replaced with a net-zero environmental education center. Such a building produces as much or more power than it uses in a year.
District officials say net-zero buildings, which use solar panels and other "green" technology, decrease environmental impacts, reduce operating costs and have other benefits.
The design concept for the environmental education center will be presented to the forest board's planning committee June 28 and go the full board for approval July 14.
Pending grant approval, the plan is to bid the project in December with construction beginning in spring 2022, according to Randy Seebach, the forest preserve district's director of planning and land preservation.