Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center

In preparation for construction of the Austin Gardens Environmental Center, 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. In, 2015 ustin Gardens Environmental Education Center was constructed with sustainability at the core of its design. Here is a sample of the energy-efficient and high performance and sustainable design elements:

  • 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.
  • Energy efficient mechanical systems in the building.
  • Outdoor children’s learning garden featuring nature imprints and native plantings
  • To see a complete list of sustainability features of this building, visit here.

Following construction, the Park District of Oak Park was awarded Platinum LEED certification for the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center making it one of the first of its kind to attain Platinum status. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used third-party verification process for green buildings. The Environmental Education Center was also named on the list of Illinois’ 200 Great Places by the Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects. 

The Center is open to the public during special events and Park District programs such as preschool, camps, and nature and gardening classes. 

The Park District of Oak Park received a $400,000 matching grant  for the development of the Environmental Learning Center and other improvements at Austin Gardens from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 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.

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 were 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.

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

For more information on Austin Gardens woodland habitats, see here.

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