Biggest hurdle to proposed environmental education center cleared with $2 million donation

The anonymous donation of $2 million is a major boost to a proposed “Net Zero” educational facility in the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area near Riverwoods.

The donation – said to be the second largest gift in the 63-year history of the Lake County Forest Preserve – is from the same source that provided seed money nearly two years ago.

“This $200,000 gift allowed us to get started and get to this point in the building’s design process,” said Rebecca Snyder, Director of Community Engagement and Partnership. “It was just an idea at the time.”

Pending final details, a $2 million donation for construction nearly confirms that the area will be able to move forward in the spring with the $4.6 million first phase of the project.

“It’s a big step, but it’s not the last,” Snyder said of the pending donation. She added that other donations are also being followed up.

In a glimpse of what’s to come, district officials in early June transferred $2 million in capital funds to match grants or donations.

The district has also applied for a $530,000 grant from the Clean Energy Community Foundation, which is expected to be considered in January.

“We’re very optimistic, put it this way,” Snyder said.

Forestry commissioners in July approved a $573,725 contract with Texas-based Lake Flato Architects to produce ready-to-build plans for an environmental education center.

The first stage includes: two semesters. a covered porch to serve as a third classroom when weather permits; Fully accessible half-mile educational loop path; Slight reorganization of the existing route to add two bus parking spaces; and signage and educational exhibits focusing on the sustainability aspects of the new building, according to Randy Seebach, director of planning and land conservation.

The new center will replace two log cabins and other older structures as part of a $7 million project to be built in two phases. It is designed as a zero-energy building, which means that it will produce enough renewable energy to power itself.

“This is still more important today than it was in 2020,” Snyder said.

Before the pandemic, about 10,000 students annually participated in Ryerson’s educational programs.

$2 million was donated to the Lake County Forest Conservation Foundation, which was organized in 2007. It is the largest gift to this entity and the second largest gift to the region overall.

The largest contribution in 1996 was 261 acres from Lake Forest-based WW Grainger.

According to the county’s website, the contribution at the time was $14 million. That would equate to about $8.6 million at the current rate of $33,000 per acre, Snyder said.


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