After more than four years of planning and fundraising, construction of the new Winnebago County Conservation Council Environmental Education Center will soon begin.
The WCCB held its second bid on June 14, approved Kingland Construction Services’ bid at its June board meeting, and signed the final tender contract at its July meeting. In a press release, Winnebago County naturalist Lisa Ralls said that if all goes as planned, the county will have a nature center by the end of next year. The building will be located on 325 acres of prairie wetlands just west of Highway 69, north of Leland and just south of Highway 9 near the intersection of the two highways.
Fundraising for the center officially began in June 2018. At that time, based on construction estimates, the goal was to raise approximately $1.2 million for the new building. By the end of 2020, this target had been exceeded and tenders opened in January 2021. Unfortunately, at that time, COVID was causing significant supply disruptions and cost increases. As a result, the bids were all 30-40% higher than expected and had to be rejected.
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Over the next year, the WCCB made changes to the building’s design and raised more money. This spring, the board of directors decided to leave the offers once again. These offers were also slightly higher than expected, but with more money now in the bank, they seemed acceptable. So the Council accepted Kingland Construction Services’ offer of $2.297 million and signed the contract a month later. Depending on supply issues, work schedules and weather conditions, the project will start this fall or next spring. The end date is scheduled for December 2023.
The building will be 7,680 square feet on two levels. The ground floor will include 28-foot high vaulted ceilings, an exhibition area, a large program and meeting room with a kitchenette and offices. The lower level will include a workshop and activity area as well as a meeting room, as well as an exit to the meadow. The building will meet ADA accessibility specifications and the two levels will be connected by an elevator.
The new center will contain exhibits and interactive displays that will help increase people’s awareness and knowledge of natural resources. It will also be a central location for school programs and outings, as well as a meeting place for local groups and organizations. Additionally, it will be an attraction for people visiting Winnebago County.
To date, WCCB and the Friends of Winnebago County Conservation Foundation have raised approximately 82% of the $2.297 million needed for the project. Funds were raised primarily through a combination of small and large donations, as well as numerous grants. Funds will continue to be collected over the next 18 months. Once construction is complete, additional funds will still be needed for furnishings and exhibits.
Individuals can visit www.winnebagoccb.com for more information or to donate online. All donations will be acknowledged in the WCCB newsletter. All contributions of $250 or more will be acknowledged on a donor chart in the center. Additionally, since all donations go to the Friends of Winnebago County Conservation Foundation, a 501c(3) non-profit organization, all contributions are tax deductible.
The WCCB and the Friends Foundation thanked all the individuals and organizations who have already donated to this project. Everyone is encouraged to watch the construction site and stay informed on the WCCB website, Facebook page and Twitter feed for updates and photos of the upcoming construction.
If anyone has questions about the new Winnebago County Environmental Education Center, they can contact the WCCB at 641-565-3390 or WCCB Director Robert Schwartz at email@example.com.