The educational facility will be Lake County’s first net-zero public structure built from the ground up

The future of environmental education at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods was unveiled Friday amid remnants of the past that have yet to be dismantled and washed away.

“It brings together so many of our goals,” said Ann Maine, District Commissioner of Lake County Forest Preserve.

“The building will not only be net zero, but an educational tool in itself.”

Maine and other forest reserve officials and partners in the $5.18 million project met at the wooded site Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony, with construction slated to begin Monday.

Net-zero means that the facility will produce enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption needs. It is said to be the first such public building in Lake County to be built from the ground up.

The building is designed to replace and expand the educational programs that had been offered in two 1940s cottages for decades near the entrance to the 550-acre Ryerson site.

Ryerson has been a center for environmental education and programming for all ages since it was acquired by the district in 1972.

The booths had reached the end of their useful life and did not comply with current accessibility codes. The district contracted Lake Flato Architects of San Antonio, Texas to design a replacement about 18 months ago.


On Monday, officials will review a recommendation to hire the company to oversee construction, which will include various building components and materials to achieve net zero certification.

Among these features are solar panels on the roof, highly efficient heating and air conditioning systems and high performance triple glazed windows to regulate the temperature. The windows will include a pattern embedded in the glass to reduce bird strikes.

“We want to raise the bar and lead by example when it comes to green buildings and environmental sustainability,” said Ty Kovach, executive director of the forest district. “Our goal is for this new building to become a viable model of sustainable and energy-efficient design.”

The first phase of construction includes a 3,400 square foot building with two classrooms, virtual teaching space, a net-zero interpretive exhibit area and a 1,000 square foot screened porch for exhibition space. additional teaching.

Project costs for the first phase have nearly doubled from initial estimates due to inflation, supply chain issues and other factors, according to district officials.

The project also includes realigning the entrance road, installing accessible walkways and an educational loop trail, and extending water, sewer and other services.

“We’re spending a lot of money on infrastructure, but we’re upgrading the whole site to make it accessible,” said district landscape architect Becky Mathis.

The district secured approximately $3 million in funding from outside sources for the project, including $2.4 million from a private donor and $513,000 from the Chicago-based Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

Gabriela Martin, program director for energy at the private foundation, said the Ryerson project is one of 13 funded out of 70 applications.

“It really stood out,” she said of the Ryerson plan. “We thought it would really have the kind of impact that we want these buildings to have.”

The event took place in front of the old cabins, which were sold for a nominal cost with the requirement that they be dismantled, moved offsite and reassembled elsewhere.

One of the cabins is gone except for the foundation. The work to dismantle the second cabin should be completed this weekend.

The new center is expected to open in the summer of 2023.

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