Contracts for 2nd net-zero building on Lake County forest board agenda

The Lake County Forest Preserve District is gearing up to proceed with its second net-zero energy building years after it was put on the to-do list and at well over the initial cost estimate.

Forest commissioners on June 14 will consider 11 contracts totaling about $4.8 million for various aspects of an energy-efficient grounds maintenance facility at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

Separate contracts of $738,276 for construction management services and an increase of $171,813 for architectural and engineering services for the project also will be considered.

A net-zero building produces enough energy to power itself. It's part of a host of pending changes outlined in a master plan for Lakewood, the district's largest forest preserve at 2,835 acres.

What has been a general practice will be formalized in the district's 2024 budget policies and planning. Net-zero energy performance is the goal for all new and renovated facilities whenever possible.

The Lakewood maintenance facility was envisioned in early 2020, when the master plan was approved. The initial estimate was $2.5 million. About $3.34 million is included in the current budget for the project.

But because of materials and other cost increases, $2.5 million more is needed to make up the difference.

The original estimate was before the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions that resulted in significant increases in the cost of construction materials, according to John Nelson, the district's director of operations and infrastructure.

It also preceded the war in Ukraine, which affected the production and distribution of oil, steel and other materials, and a tightening labor market contributed to increased construction costs, he added.

“Given that the project was just put out to public bid and received significant interest and response from potential bidders, there is confidence that the cost of the construction contracts to be awarded now represents the current fair market value of the construction” ready to start, Nelson said.

Contracts were recommended for approval Monday during an annual joint meeting of three forest board committees that include all 19 members.

Savings from other projects are available to cover the increased cost, said Commissioner Gina Roberts, who chairs the board's finance committee.

“Our board is committed to zero-impact facilities and leading the way for a more sustainable future,” Roberts said.

The current maintenance building dates to the original 1940s farm structures at Lakewood. It will be replaced with a 7,982-square-foot building at the northeast corner of Ivanhoe and Forest Preserve roads, a more prominent and visible spot.

The facility is in keeping with districtwide plans to “right size” infrastructure and reduce long-term operating costs, Nelson said.

“The location we picked is related to making the core of Lakewood denser,” Nelson said.

Once complete, it will allow the current building, a pump house and a barn used for storage to be demolished.

Substantial insulation, highly efficient electric heating and air conditioning equipment, masses of windows to provide ample natural light, and a solar array will be among the features.

“Hopefully, we don't have to turn on the lights,” Nelson said. “We'll let the sun illuminate the space.”

An environmental education center nearing completion at Edward L. Ryerson Conservation area in Riverwoods will be the first net-zero structure built by the district.

Meanwhile at Lakewood, construction is expected to begin in July on $5.1 million master plan work to include rebuilding the main entrance, interior roads and two parking lots and installing a paved 1.6-mile looped trail.

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  The grounds maintenance building at Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda dates to the 1940s. Paul Valade/, 2018
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