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Published: Thursday, 7/17/2008

Toledo Botanical Garden eyes $40M upgrade

BY JC REINDL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo Botanical Garden plans to undertake improvements in its new master plan in phases
as money becomes available. The fi rst phase, above, would be a children s garden. Toledo Botanical Garden plans to undertake improvements in its new master plan in phases as money becomes available. The fi rst phase, above, would be a children s garden.
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Toledo Botanical Garden officials will unveil this morning a master plan for $40 million in design, laying out a 20-year vision for expanding the garden's offerings and amenities with an eye to quadrupling attendance.

The planning document is the third major site plan in the garden's 44-year history, which began when real estate agent George P. Crosby donated 20 acres in West Toledo to the city. Now at more than 60 acres, the year-round botanical garden charges no admission for the estimated 120,000 people who visit each year.

The master plan released today calls for many additions, including a glass-enclosed conservatory, new visitors and events centers, a learning village near Hawkins Elementary School, and a children's garden.

It also envisions enhancement of existing gardens and structures, such as the greenhouses near the West Bancroft Street entrance.

The work is to be paid for with future donations and possible grants.

"We're trying to put in place a plan to elevate this garden to a world-class garden, and to continue to be many things to many people," Executive Director Janet Schroeder said.

The master plan "gives a very comprehensive and holistic overview of what the Toledo Botanical Garden is, and what it wants to be."

Implementation would occur in phases over two decades as money becomes available, she said.

Most new construction is planned for the garden's southern half, presently a grassy field.

The cost of all planned improvements is about $40 million. Fund-raising is underway for the plan's first phase: the 4 1/2-acre children's garden.

Ms. Schroeder said about $800,000 of the garden's $3 million price tag has been raised. With fund-raising success, construction could begin on the children's garden next year, she said.

"We are not going to create or build any enhancement until we actually have the dollars to build it and do it right," Ms. Schroeder said.

The city's planning department created the botanical garden's first master plan in 1970, and the garden developed the next plan in 1986.

More than a year and a half of planning went into this newest document in a process that included public input through meetings and questionnaires.

A master plan committee included members of the garden's staff and board of trustees, community volunteers, and representatives from the Toledo Area Metroparks.

Last year the Metroparks provided 16 percent of the garden's $2 million in revenue, according to an annual report.

The garden hired the Dallas-based MESA Design Group for $115,000 as a consultant to produce the master plan.

The firm's Tres Fromme has been lead designer for both the master plan and children's garden, a project for which The Collaborative Inc. of Toledo is also a consultant.

"We want people to come and make the garden even more a part of their lives than it is now," Mr. Fromme said.

The children's garden is billed as a leafy and water-filled refuge for play, discovery, and stimulation of the mind and senses.

It would include a wide variety of plantings, wading pools, five stand-alone play and discovery rooms - one in the style of a castle rampart - and a giant mass of turf, boulders, and sculptured concrete in the shape of a turtle on which children could climb.

Visitors young and old could stroll along a serpentine path that would be flanked in part by towering bamboo.

"There is going to be a tunnel of bamboo leading from the parking lot area, into the garden, to the transformative threshold," Ms. Schroeder said.

While the notion of bamboo groves might conjure to mind warmer East Asian locales, Ms. Schroeder noted that hardier species of bamboo grow in temperate climates like northwest Ohio.

As a centerpiece, the master plan calls for construction of a large conservatory containing "designed landscape under glass."

The building would attach to a new event and banquet center, as well as a visitors center and the botanical garden's new administrative office.

In addition to more restrooms, benches, and drinking fountains, other future improvements include an event lawn, a new and expanded vegetable garden, a picnic area, and the learning village complete with classrooms, library, and reading room.

"There is nothing that's going to be average or mediocre about any of the improvements we do here," Ms. Schroeder said.

After the children's garden is complete, she said, it would be fitting for the proposed conservatory complex to be ready for 2014, which is the 50th anniversary of Mr. Crosby's original donation.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com

or 419-724-6065.



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