BY BRIAN L. HUCHEL
Outdoor School classes at Kennekuk County Park are expected to have a new venue to learn in starting this fall.
Work that began with the groundbreaking in November continues this spring on the Kennekuk Environmental Education Center, located near the White Oak Barn area.
Ken Konsis, executive director of the Vermilion County Conservation District, said heavy rains earlier this spring have only put a small dent in the work schedule for the building.
“They’re probably two weeks behind, if I had to guess,” he said on Wednesday, adding the project is still “progressing very well.”
Roofers were putting a rubber roof on the structure this week, Konsis said, with expectations the floor of the first phase of the building will be poured next week.
Timelines still have Phase 1 of the building scheduled to be completed by the end of July or mid August at the latest. Konsis said final inspections for the grants received for the project will be conducted at the end of August.
It was a little more than a year ago that the Vermilion County Conservation District was approved for a $1 million grant for the building — a major step in allowing construction to begin. The grant was given by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development.
The activity this spring at the Environmental Education Center site is a big change from last year in which the area was a quiet pasture framed by a tree line.
The 34,000-square-foot center will be built in three phases, with the first section containing office space, a classroom and a kitchen. Ultimate plans in Phases 2 and 3 call for a facility that includes several green technology features, including geothermal heating, as well as a large meeting and conference space.
The project has been on the Vermilion County Conservation District’s Master Plan since 1995 and has been a capital project of the Vermilion County Conservation District Foundation since 2006.
The quick turnaround from a year ago isn’t lost on Konsis.
“It’s unbelievable to see something there,” he said. “We’re already thinking about Phase 2.”
Since the ground breaking in November, Konsis said there has been a swell of public support for the project resulting in a number of private donations for the next phases of the project.
“We hope now that Phase 2 could be within months rather than years,” he said.
The overall project is expected to cost more than $5 million and has included no local tax dollars. Private donations and grants are essential to bring this project to fruition.
More than 60,000 students have completed Outdoor School at either Forest Glen County Preserve or Kennekuk in the last 35 years.