Stage set for new, $7 million education center at Ryerson Conservation Area

  • The outdated classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Woods near Riverwoods will be replaced by a new, $7 million education center, under a plan district leaders discussed Wednesday.

    The outdated classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Woods near Riverwoods will be replaced by a new, $7 million education center, under a plan district leaders discussed Wednesday. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2020

  • The smaller of two classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Woods near Riverwoods. Both cabins will be torn down and replaced by a new, $7 million education center, under a plan district leaders discussed Wednesday.

    The smaller of two classroom cabins in the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Ryerson Woods near Riverwoods. Both cabins will be torn down and replaced by a new, $7 million education center, under a plan district leaders discussed Wednesday. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer, 2020

 
 
Updated 7/16/2021 9:56 AM

The stage is being set for a new $7 million environmental education center to replace outdated facilities at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods.

Lake County Forest Preserve commissioners on Wednesday approved a $573,725 contract with Lake Flato Architects of San Antonio, Texas, to produce construction-ready plans for the project, which would be built in two stages.

 

The first portion is estimated at $4.3 million and could begin in spring 2022. But the timing of bidding and construction is contingent on the district's securing grants or donations to match its available funding.

Lake Flato was among the six finalists, out of 19 firms in all, that were interviewed by a forest district selection committee before its selection.

"They're one of the most renowned consulting firms for this type of work in the country," said Randy Seebach, the district's director of planning and land preservation.

The facility would allow the district to expand on the educational programming currently offered at two log cabins at Ryerson. Those buildings are at the end of their useful lives and do not comply with accessibility codes, according to the district.

Lake Flato will design a 5,789-square-foot educational center featuring four classrooms, restrooms, storage areas, virtual teaching space, a screened porch and interpretive exhibits. The plan also includes a road realignment and an education loop trail.

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The firm will refine a concept that already has been approved and develop construction documents to allow the project to be bid, Seebach said.

The center would be a "net-zero energy" building, meaning it would produce enough renewable energy to meet its own energy consumption requirements. The district will pursue funding from a program offered by the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

In early June, the forest board shifted $2 million in the capital improvement fund from 2022 to this year to match grants or donations for the facility.

Before the pandemic, about 10,000 students annually participated in educational programs at Ryerson. The classroom cabins are still being used, said Nan Buckardt, the district's director of education.

Since the project is in two parts, only one cabin would be removed to start. That would happen in winter if everything comes together, she added.

"Once we know for sure all the funding is in place, later this fall, we can make plans for our next move," Buckardt said.

According to Seebach, the $573,725 architectural contract will come out of the $2 million the district has set aside as its contribution to the project.

The district previously received a $200,000 donation, which paid for the preparation of the site plan and schematic building design.

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