The 2014 bonding bill passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton includes $5 million for improvements at Fridley’s Springbrook Nature Center.
The goals of the SPRING project — which stands for Sanctuary Protection and Renewal Into the Next Generation — include expanding educational opportunities, accommodating increased park visitations and using “green” technology.
The funds will be used for an improvement project several years in the making to the 7-acre entrance area, including replacing the old picnic shelter with a modern picnic pavilion with restrooms, water and grills; constructing a celebration plaza next to the picnic area for memorial services and other community events; constructing an outdoor amphitheater and five outdoor classrooms; expanding the parking lot; and constructing an addition onto the existing 5,600 square-foot interpretive center building to triple its size.
From the city’s standpoint, Fridley Mayor Scott Lund said the city-owned nature center builds community spirit and pride.
“I think we’re going to be very proud once this thing becomes a reality,” he said. “This is a great leap forward.”
He said he sees Springbrook as an asset not just to Fridley, but to the wider community.
“It puts us on the map, so to speak,” Lund said. “We’ve got something unique that we can boast about.”
In 2013, visitations grew to more than 180,000, including more than 23,400 program participants and nearly 13,000 student contacts from throughout the north metro area.
The addition to the building, the most expensive part of the project, will include solar cells on the roof, use of geothermal energy and more.
The larger space would also give the center more room for exhibits and would accommodate larger groups.
The total project is estimated at $7.6 million, Springbrook Nature Center Foundation Chairman Malcolm Mitchell said. Including in-kind donations, the foundation has so far raised about $450,000. With state funding in place, the campaign to raise the remaining funds will kick into gear this summer.
“We’re excited and we’re ready to get going,” he said. “It’s been a 10-year process to get where we’re at, so we’re very pleased.”
The first part of phase one of the project — constructing a berm, or a raised earthen mound, used as a barrier along 85th Avenue NW for noise reduction and safety — is complete.
The project has made it through the bonding legislative process and to the governor’s desk three times in the past, but former Gov. Tim Pawlenty line-vetoed the project along with hundreds of others.
Mitchell said the project has been in the planning stages for a number of years. They first went to the Legislature in 2005 with their request.
Now that state funding has been approved, Mitchell said they’d like to have bids out for the construction design by July 1 so construction can begin late this fall or early next spring.
“We’re getting started as soon as we can,” he said. “It’s a jewel that deserves to be expanded. It’s a natural area of 127 acres surrounded by urban development.”
The biggest priority is expanding and remodeling the interpretive center and redesigning the exhibits. Earlier this year, the Fridley City Council approved an agreement with Split Rock Studios to create schematic designs of new exhibits at Springbrook Nature Center for $19,400.
Design of the improved and expanded interpretive center will require a plan for the exhibit areas to determine appropriate sizing of exhibit display areas and pedestrian traffic flow.
The design project will involve a comprehensive exhibit concept plan that describes the exhibits and all related costs, including utilities and technology to be incorporated into the exhibits.
Like Mitchell, Springbrook Nature Center Director Mike Maher said he sees the building expansion as the priority. At its current size, the center isn’t able to accommodate large groups of people.
“Creating additional education spaces to accommodate multiple groups and larger groups is a big goal,” he said. “Everybody here is totally overjoyed. The impact it’ll have on making us a destination site throughout the metro is very exciting.”
Elizabeth Sias is at firstname.lastname@example.org