Park district wants to build center in Austin Gardens

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

If they're able to secure the grant funding, the Park District of Oak Park would like to build a 2,100-square-foot environmental learning center in Austin Gardens to replace the old garage used by Festival Theatre.

The facility would house educational programming for children and possibly adults, as well as storage space for Festival Theatre, a professional company that produces works by William Shakespeare in the gardens during the summer, said park district spokeswoman Diane Stanke and project manager Neil Adams.

Adams said the building would have a green roof and a high-efficiency HVAC system. If staff got the $400,000 matching grant from the state Department of Natural Resources, they would apply for LEED certification as well. Water would run off the building's roof into what would be the Discovery Garden, Stanke said. There would also be a concrete path with animal imprints and native plantings. Adams said patrons could sit at tables under a covered patio.

Inside, Stanke and Adams said there would be storage space for Festival Theatre. It would be an improvement over the current garage that Adams guessed was built during the 1970s and would be demolished if the proposed facility gets built. There would be a room inside to sell concessions and large windows would provide a good view of the garden, they said.

But the park district will have to wait until next year before they decide whether the project can move forward. The $400,000 matching grant would come through the Open Space and Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program, which provides matching dollars for outdoor recreation space projects around the state. The IDNR will announce grant winners between January and June, Stanke said.

Park staff and board President Christine Graves went to Springfield last week to make a presentation about the project for the grant, which Stanke said was "jumping the first hurdle." Adams said staff would have internal discussions about whether or not to continue the project if they aren't awarded the grant.

The total cost for the improvement project at Austin Gardens, which includes landscaping, electrical and lighting work, is about $810,000.

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