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Park District Details Plans for $2.4 Million Conservatory and Greenhouse Rehab

Executive director says he's not at all worried about the state's ability to pay its $1.84 million share.

When driving around Elmhurst in the summer, one can't help but notice the bright bursts of color from the many flower beds throughout the city. They're in pots in City Centre, at the entrance to virtually every park and in full regalia at the formal gardens at .

Those flowers and a host of other seasonal plants—some 10,000 native plants per year—are grown in the Park District's greenhouses, located near the at Wilder Park. The Park District has its own horticulture department that propagates and transplants the blooms all over town.

But the city's two greenhouses are structurally deteriorated, especially the one to the north, which was built in the late 1800s. The 88-year-old Wilder Park Conservatory directly to the west of the greenhouses, which draws nearly 14,000 visitors a year, also is badly in need of repair. So, in 2010, the Park District applied for a $1.84 million Park and Recreational Construction grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It was announced last week that Elmhurst will be awarded the grant.

The grant is part of the state's Illinois Jobs Now capital program, which is expected to create more than 300 jobs throughout the state. But to the Elmhurst Park District, receiving the grant and rehabbing the conservatory complex means more than creating jobs.

"It is a multi-faceted program that benefits people at many levels," Park District Executive Director Rich Grodsky said.

In addition to the greenhouses providing many of the city's plants and flowers, the conservatory draws tourists and serves as an educational resource for hundreds of schoolchildren, he said. It contains exotic plants, ferns, blooming cereus and even a banana tree.

The Rehab

The north greenhouse is in such bad shape that it will have to be torn down and rebuilt. The south greenhouse is salvageable, but it will need a new masonry foundation and all new glass and framing.

"The hope was that we would be able to save both greenhouses, but because of the age and deterioration, we are not able to do that with the one on the north," Grodsky said.

The conservatory will get new vestibule doors and frame, new interior walkways that are Americans with Disabilities Act compliant, an automated venting system, updated heating and air conditioning, and upgraded plumbing and electrical systems for energy-efficient climate control.

The footprint of the conservatory complex will not change. The idea is to replicate as closely as possible the original structures, Grodsky said.

"We think it's the right thing to do given the character of the park, the history of and why those greenhouses are here," he said. "So it's more of a continuation of what we've tried to do throughout the park, keeping the historical pieces in place."

While the size of the conservatory won't increase, maneuverability for visitors will improve, said Deputy Director of Parks and Recreation , who will be overseeing the project.

"Now, there are piping systems that are too low and you have to duck under them, the walkways themselves don't provide the most solid type of footing," he said. "It will be a much more enhanced experience when we are able to update things."

The Grant

PARC grant funding is reimbursed; the park district will have to pay for the project up front, and the $1.84 million will be awarded when the work is complete. The grant funds 75 percent of the $2.45 million project, with the Park District responsible for the rest.

But even with Illinois in dire financial straits, Grodsky said he is not at all worried that the state won't pay up.

"Those dollars are in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources budget, separate from the general fund," he said. "I always worry about the general fund, but I don't worry about the bond stuff. It's money (bonds) that are already sold and banked."

In addition to the work on the greenhouses and conservatory, and as a condition of the grant, the Park District also will have to rebuild its poly-arch greenhouse, a fabric-on-frame structure that will house all the plants while the work is being done. The cost to rebuild the poly-arch is about $400,000, Rogers said, and is not part of the grant.

Rogers gave credit to all of Elmhurst's state legislators who helped pursue the grant: Sens. Carole Pankau and Ron Sandack (and before him, former Sen. Dan Cronin), and Reps. Dennis Reboletti and Chris Nybo.

What's Next?

Over the course of 2012, the Park District will replace the poly-arch greenhouse and begin specific design-engineering work on the structures.

The district has been working with consulting engineer Montgomery Smith Inc. out of Ohio on speculative work and cost estimating.

"We've been working with them since 2003," Rogers said. "We knew we really needed to start taking a hard look at these facilities, so we had a full needs assessment and evaluation done in 2003, and it's been a process ever since."

Montgomery Smith is a highly specialized firm.

"(It) only does historic renovation of conservatories and greenhouses," Grodsky said. "That's their sole purpose."

The district will continue to work with that firm in the near term, but when it comes time to begin the rehab, the project will go through the public bidding process, Rogers said.

"We're hoping that over the course of a two-year period, we can get this done," he said.

MIKE October 14, 2011 at 11:09 AM
This is a great deal as long as the State doesn't stiff the City with the financing. Go Elmhurst!
Doremus Jessup October 14, 2011 at 04:03 PM
How about geo-thermal heating/cooling and growing some food?
Super Concerned Citizen October 14, 2011 at 04:54 PM
How about a decent recreational facility with indoor basketball courts and large indoor swimming pool for kids to play in and 1/4 mile indoor track and outside facilities that actually serve the residents of elmhurst rather than the private educational institutions in our community? I mean, if Wheaton, Naperville, Lombard, Downer's Grove, Bensenville and Oak Brook have those type of facilities (which they do...), why can't Elmhurst have a similar facility? Oh, that's right. I am forgot that only the geriatrics in our community count in the eyes of the park district and we have Court Plus (Despite the fact no one has ever explained what the plus stood for because anything plus inadequate facilities still gets you....inadequate facilities.) It is pathetic that they will throw their money at this rather than to have facilities that serve Elmhurst Airborne, Elmhurst Eagles and Team Elmhurst who all have to shuffle and jive to get time in the open.
MIKE October 14, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Hey super concerned - Have you or any in your family ever been a member of the courts? I bet not, have you ever worked out there or swam in the pool? You comment is a cheap shot at the facility. I am not a sr. citizen nor am I close to the golden years & that shouldn't matter, do you have an age issue? . The facility is highly ranked and is a clean, affordable & great place. Why trash the place. The Plus refers to the facility having a pool, climbing wall, indoor track, raquet ball and top notch workout facility. The Plus means when the place opened in the late 70's it was strictly a tennis / racquet facility and they added the other amenities later, hence the plus.
Steve Williams October 14, 2011 at 06:29 PM
Mike, Check out any of SCC's posts. He/she is NEVER happy and has a NEGATIVE comment for everything/anything. Trying to counter his/her arguments is an exercise in futility. Never mind that the park district spent almost $2 million on 2 artifical turf fields for the Eagles and Team Elmhurst. I am close to both organizations and both are EXTREMELY happy with their playing facilities and time allotments. It is true that the park district doesn't have indoor gym space for basketball, but why would they? District 205 has MORE than enough, to the point that 205 had to work with Airborne so that when Airborne didn't/couldn't use ALL of the time alloted, they would communicate back to 205 so staff wasn't kept around for no reason. Many, including me, would argue this is an efficient use of taxpayer money so as not to duplicate facilities by having the epd and 205 work together. SCC doesn't care about that, just another reason for him/her to bitch about something.
MIKE October 14, 2011 at 08:49 PM
Steve - Thanks for the info. on crumongeon SCC, his or her comments are a waste of time. SCC, sounds like you have one agenda and if we don't agree with you, you bring up tired and worthless comments. Mr. Williams is on to you so is the rest of Elmhurst. The Courts Plus is a great facility, right Steve?

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