BOWLING GREEN - After doing their homework for more than five years, Wood County park commissioners yesterday approved building plans for a $900,000 nature center at the W.W. Knight Preserve in Perrysburg Township.
Park Director Neil Munger said he hopes to put the long-awaited project out to bid by the end of March so that construction can get under way by summer. The Wood County Park District promised to build a nature center at the 42-acre preserve when the land at East River and White roads was donated by the Knight family in 1993.
“We're excited,” Mr. Munger said. “The Knight Preserve is a great place to bring kids, but without restrooms it limits which groups you can bring. And if it's a rainy day, a teacher might just cancel, whereas with the nature center, we'll be able to move the program indoors.”
Designs call for a 10,000-square-foot building that includes a classroom with a wet lab, a reading room where visitors can sit and relax, a window on wildlife area for bird watchers, a great room for presentations and meetings, and a lobby area for educational displays.
“In addition to use, we were also concerned about aesthetics,” Mr. Munger said. “We didn't want something that would stick out to people passing by. We wanted it to blend in, so it's going to be stone and gray cedar siding. It should blend into the scenery really well.”
The Knight Preserve, which has a 3.5-acre pond and wetland, native prairie, woodlands with a boardwalk, and trails, is a popular destination for walkers and birdwatchers. A stone trail connects the preserve to the nearby Hospice of Northwest Ohio grounds.
The nature center has been on the park district's drawing board since 1999, when the board settled on plans for an energy-efficient, partially underground earth shelter.
“The more people we talked to and the more underground places we visited, the more we heard, ‘Don't do it,'” Mr. Munger said. “There were problems with leaks, problems with air quality, problems with moisture in the building.”
That idea was abandoned. The next step was to reconsider what kind of nature center would serve both the public and the park district staff. The park board hired the Collaborative, Inc., of Toledo to draw up plans and began a fund-raising drive.
So far, about $250,000 in private donations have been pledged, and the park district has set aside $500,000 from its own budget. Mr. Munger said he hopes to raise $400,000 in private funds.
“This has been a long time coming. A lot of it was raising the private funds,” he said. “We've gotten to where we're comfortable now, so we're looking at finally going to bid.”