Sean Ciolek, architect and project manager for the City of Evanston, presented proposed plans for the Ecology Center Greenhouse addition. The City has applied for a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to help fund the project. If the grant is received and the other phases of the project go smoothly, said, Stefanie Levine of Parks/Forestry and Facilities, construction should take only about three or four months. Photo by Mary Mumbrue

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More than 35 people gathered at the Ecology Center on March 22 to listen to proposals about expanding the greenhouse there. The present greenhouse is deteriorating, and the City hopes to replace the greenhouse with a somewhat larger version. Of the projected $500,000 cost of the project, $125,000 was allocated in this year’s capital improvement program for the project. Later this spring the City will learn whether it will receive a $375,000 grant – proposal already submitted – from the state’s Department of Natural Resources, (DNR) said Stefanie Levine, assistant director of Parks/Forestry and Facilities management.

Sean Ciolek, architect for the project, presented two options, in both of which the space would be primarily devoted to educational activities and programming: one a large room with one  area set aside as a “plant and animal habitat”; the second divided into classroom space and a true, temperature-and-humidity-controlled greenhouse. The “habitat” area of option 1 would not be a true greenhouse, and the greenhouse of the second option is a smaller space than the present greenhouse. Although solar panels had been considered, Mr. Ciolek said, the cost at present was prohibitive.

Discussion centered on the size of the proposed greenhouse, the lack of significant storage space and whether a true greenhouse or more classroom space was preferable. Some suggested that it was important to have the greenhouse for educational reasons: ETHS students intern at the Ecology Center but some have gone elsewhere, to Emily Oaks in Skokie, for example, to learn in a more sophisticated environment.

Others suggested that more classroom space would be welcome so that more programs, particularly for the younger children, could be offered. Gordon Guth, a member of the Ecology Center Board, reminded City staff and others in the audience that the large room where they were sitting was also a classroom.

He said he thought the greenhouse should be larger than the present one. He told the RoundTable he was “appalled” by the small size of the greenhouse and had asked the architect, Mr. Ciolek, whether the greenhouse space could be enlarged.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “Since the grant includes the greenhouse, I suggest that we stop talking about not having it. If we get the grant, [the greenhouse] has to be there.”

Mr. Ciolek told the RoundTable he thought the meeting was “productive,” since City staff heard what the residents wanted. An ambitious timeline, said Ms. Levine, is that the City would hear about the DNR grant in late spring, work on the design during the summer, obtain approval from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (the property owner) and gather construction documents in the fall, contract the bidding next winter and begin construction in about a year from now. If the grant is received and the other phases of the project go smoothly, she said, construction should take only about three or four months.