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Work Expected to Begin Soon on Ernie Miller Nature Center expansion
POSTED: 03/17/2003
After more than 10 years of anticipation, Johnson County Park and Recreation District officials expect work will begin shortly on a third phase of expansion at the Ernie Miller Nature Center, 909 N. Kansas 7 Highway, Olathe. A bid opening for a 7,000 square-foot addition to the Nature Center was set for April 14 and formal action by the District Board is expected during the Board meeting on April 16.

If a bid is approved at the April 16 meeting, construction could begin in late May or early June with an October 1 completion expected.

"It's really exciting. It's going to add a lot of flexibility and really make the nature center what we always dreamed it could be," said JCPRD Interpretive Manager Bill McGowan. "This will allow us to reach the full potential of that facility."

The Nature Center's initial phase opened in 1985 with 2,000 square feet and was expanded by 3,200 square feet during a second phase completed in 1992. The next phase has been anticipated since that time, but was repeatedly bumped because of budget concerns and cutbacks.

The expansion will take the center further to the west. The largest new portion of the facility will be a 1,800 square-foot multipurpose room which, as planned, will have a capacity of 150 and a removable wall which can divide the room into two smaller rooms. This dividable multipurpose room will give the nature center four programmable areas (up from two at present), will provide opportunity for additional summer programming, and will provide space for outdoor events to move indoor in the case of inclement weather.

Also planned is an exhibit room with about 1,000 square feet and the theme "Changes in the Land," to be furnished later, a 200 square-foot viewing room facing the woods, a 500-gallon aquarium featuring native fish in the pre-function area of the multipurpose room, and a 2,200-foot basement storage area.

"This will make the nature center much more of a tourist attraction and we'll get more visitations from the public because there'll be exhibits for them to see and attractions that aren't specifically tied to programs," McGowan said.

The center's existing courtyard will remain and will be expanded to include stone walkways. While the courtyard will be enclosed on four sides when the expansion is completed, it will have no roof, so birds and wildlife can still come to the feeders. Because it will be in a public use area, the center's bee hive will have to be removed from the courtyard and may be relocated to another part of the building at a later date.

As part of the expansion project, it is anticipated the nature center will be closed for about three weeks in August. McGowan said this has tentatively been set for Aug. 3 through 25 to allow for installation of fire-suppression sprinklers throughout the building, reconnecting electrical lines, installing a new sewer line, and installing a hallway in the building's south room. He added that this falls right after Summer camps are over and before Fall programs begin.

After completing a conceptual plan in 2001, in late 2002 the District hired the Westwood design firm of Peckham, Guyton, Albers and Viets, which had designed the previous two phases of the building.

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