Photo courtesy cheneymansion.com

A new greenhouse at Cheney Mansion could be used for education, tourism, and even providing food to local restaurants, according to tentative plans presented by the chair of the committee charged with its creation.

“I don’t want us to see it as a greenhouse,” Chairwoman Robin Dunn told the Park District of Oak Park board at their meeting Thursday night.

Instead, the new environmentally friendly structure would expand to offer classes for children and adults through Cheney Mansion’s recreation programming or the Garden Club of Oak Park-River Forest. Local school districts could also get involved, and Dunn said she already has one school interested.

The structure would be hydroponic, meaning plants could be grown using nutrients in the water, said Helen Vogel, interim manager for the mansion and a liaison to the Gardens of Cheney Mansion Committee. The plants would feed fish, which could be harvested and sold to local restaurants, she said.

Vogel said the result could be a huge draw for surrounding communities and a definite field trip destination.

The size depends on what is allowed by historic preservation officials, as the mansion is a historic landmark.

The shell of the current greenhouse at the site would be refurbished so it stays visually historic, Vogel said. That area could be used as a classroom or space for events such as weddings.

Last January, the Good Heart, Work Smart Foundation pledged $25,000 for the committee to match. When they do, Good Heart, Work Smart will donate an additional $25,000. Vogel said the rest of the funding would come through a “strictly grassroots” effort.

Christine Graves, board vice president, who attended one of the meetings of the committee, said she saw a lot of people involved with passion and expertise and could tell their talk would turn into action.

The rest of the board agreed and gave the go-ahead for the committee to study the feasibility and cost of a new greenhouse. The committee will meet again next month.

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