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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Ecology Center renovations to last through October

Jack Ververis/The Daily Northwestern
While fences surround the backyard of the center, visitors are free to explore the sculptures and wildlife running alongside the North Shore Canal.

For 50 years, the Evanston Ecology Center has provided visitors with educational experiences about their local environment. Now, the McCormick Boulevard building is undergoing significant renovations that community members hope will keep it going for 50 more.

“It’s been quite a 50 years,” said Karen Taira, the president of the board of directors for the center’s nonprofit partner, the Evanston Environmental Association. “We went through lots of different challenges in the last 20 years, even economic ones. I think it’s really great that this strong partnership, and this center itself, has survived and just become stronger and stronger.”

The $2.3-million renovations — started in March and planned to last until October — will overhaul multiple spaces within the building. A fully electric HVAC system and elimination of all onsite carbon emissions will also give the center LEED Gold certification, in accordance with the city’s ongoing Climate Action and Resilience Plan goals.

But visitors may not even notice the most significant update. According to a report from HPZS, the architecture consulting group on the project, the most significant costs and difficult renovations will come from insulating and expanding a crawl space beneath the building, helping prevent water damage and allowing for easier maintenance.

While the center will be completely shut down during renovations, summer programming will continue at Lovelace Park, Lighthouse Beach and other locations. 

Natural Habitat Evanston co-lead Catie Lott said the center’s youth opportunities, like a set of summer environmental camps for children, have increased sustainability awareness.

“It’s hard to tell where the initial spark comes from any time a kid learns something about nature,” Lott said. “But I think having the arboretum, doing tours and teaching kids throughout the summer really helps push the adults and makes a difference in the whole community.”

Natural Habitat Evanston, a program under Climate Action Evanston, is one of over 15 organizations that attended the Ecology Center’s 2023 Earth Day event.

One other collaboration with the center is the Blueberry Award, an Evanston Public Library program highlighting the best of children’s nature literature from the previous year. In 2023, the Ecology Center became a partner, offering the building’s space, having staff speak at the ceremony and providing programming centered around the winners, such as book walks around the center’s Ladd Arboretum.

“One of our responsibilities as parents is raising children who are environmentally sensitive, who care about nature and want to work on its behalf,” said Martha Meyer, EPL library assistant and the founder of the award. “But with parents wearing so many hats — that’s maybe the 20th on the list of things you need to be in charge of as a parent — it’s so great to have the Ecology Center support kids in Evanston to learn to love nature.”

Partnership with local organizations goes back to the center’s initial construction. In 1974, a group of private citizens built and donated the center to Evanston, believing that the city would benefit from such a facility. That group of citizens, now the Evanston Environmental Association, continues to run fundraising and advertising for the center, though this third set of renovations is currently being entirely funded by the city.

The center is planning various events and collecting memories to celebrate its anniversary. But for now, Taira said the renovations point toward the future.

“(Evanston) can be a really active and caring town,” Taira said. “I think it’s really great that people truly, truly want to support the outreach, support the mission, and help others become more aware of ways that we can be a little lighter on the planet.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the level of LEED certification the renovated Ecology Center will achieve. The Daily regrets this error. 

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