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Austin Gardens Renovation

IMG_6675The Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center is now open! The Grand Opening was held on Saturday, June 11 at 10am.

The Center will be open to the public during special events and Park District programs such as preschool, camps, and nature and gardening classes. View the summer schedule of programs at the A.G.E.E.C.

Construction began on the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center in September 2015. View the presentation about the new Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center to learn more about the details of this project. 

The Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center will be a LEED Platinum certified facility. Energy-Efficient and High Performance and sustainable design elements include:

  • Geo-thermal system for heating, air conditioning and comfort control.
  • Photovoltaic array on the roof to supply the projected energy needs of the building - net zero (uses sun energy)
  • Greenroof - (absorbs rainfall, reduces heat loads, reduces carbon dioxide and produces oxygen.)
  • Storm water harvesting through a cistern and diversion for toilet flushing.
  • Raingarden/bioswales to absorb the cistern overflow and the excess rain run-off as a feature in the garden.
  • Very energy efficient mechanical systems in the building.

Austin Gardens is a 3.6 acre urban forest located adjacent to bustling commercial and historic districts within Oak Park. As part of this project, the Park District of Oak Park will construct a 2,100 square foot multi-use “Environmental Education Center” which will be host to children’s nature day camps, environmental education programs for adults and children and other community events. The facility will feature many energy and environmental conserving elements including ample use of natural light, a high efficiency HVAC system and a green roof which will run off to a rain garden feature. The project also includes development of a “learning garden” with birding scopes, nature imprints, and native plantings and a social gathering area with game tables for group picnics. The park’s path system will be improved, interpretive signage will be installed and habitat enhancements will be made to the existing wildflower area in the north end of the park. Oak Park residents can look forward to the completion of this park renovation project in summer 2016.

In preparation for construction in Austin Gardens, the Park District demolished an old storage building in November 2014. Several trees were removed and were repurposed for the new Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden at the Oak Park Conservatory. Some of these trees were removed due to disease and age while others were removed to implement improvements to the park.  The project also includes the planting of several new trees in Austin Gardens with a focus on the south end of the park.

In May, 2013austingardens_interior, the Park District of Oak Park was notified by the Office of Governor Quinn and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that our community will receive a $400,000 matching grant for the development of an Environmental Learning Center and other improvements at Austin Gardens. These funds are part of the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) Grant Program which provides matching dollars for outdoor recreation space projects throughout Illinois. These grant funds have since been suspended as of April 2015.

The Park District was eligible for this grant program due to the successful passing of the “Renew Our Parks” referendum by Oak Park voters in April 2005. The local matching funds of $400,000 will be funded out of the Park District of Oak Park’s Capital Improvement Budget. The Austin Gardens site plan was completed in 2005 which is a requirement for an OSLAD grant application. Since 2005, the Park District has secured nearly $2.4 million in OSLAD grant funds for park improvements at Field, Longfellow, Taylor, Mills, and Lindberg Parks and now at Austin Gardens. A PARC (Parks and Recreation Construction) Grant for $1.6 million was awarded to the Park District in December 2011 for the entire renovation of Scoville Park which officially re-opened on Saturday, June 1, 2013.

For further information about this park improvement project, please contact Chris Lindgren, Superintendent of Buildings & Grounds.

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