Fernwood to celebrate new Sims Education Center

NILES — Fernwood Botanical Garden will reveal its brand-new Sims Education Center this weekend. The roughly $2 million building is about four years in the making and will replace a 35-year-old Nature Center.

To celebrate, Fernwood is inviting the community to view the building during a grand opening ceremony, which will take place from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Fernwood, 13988 Range Line Road. A ribbon cutting will take place at 2:30 p.m. There will also be live music and refreshments.

The 5,500-square-foot facility will double Fernwood’s educational space and feature two wings, aptly named Flora and Fauna. Here, adults and children alike will be able to utilize the space for classes, exhibits, lectures and workshops. There are also two libraries available, one for children and one for adults, which will feature an expanded collection of botanical and environmental books.

“This will finally allow us to be able to imagine much more broadly what we can accomplish here as far as adult and youth programming,” said Carol Line, the executive director of Fernwood, “and expand from nature into botany, horticulture and environmental science, in addition to, of course, art.”

Line said the building will also open other opportunities like serving a growing need for business retreats and other special events. Line said she expects there to be great demand for the space.

In the Fauna wing, sweeping views of fall foliage can be glimpsed through wide windows, which look out onto a ravine. The space was created with bird viewers in mind. As the leaves fade into winter, those who visit the center will be able to look down on the St. Joseph River. A rain garden and courtyards are also incorporated into the building’s design.

Creating a sustainable building was also a goal. A green roof – where native plants are grown – is one of those efforts, as well as the rain garden. Both will seek to mitigate the rainwater runoff. Other details include a table inside the building that was made from a tree that had to be cut down.

Completion of the building is part of the Seed the Future Campaign, which has so far generated more than $3 million. The education center is just phase one in a series of upgrades outlined through Fernwood’s 10- to 15-year master plan. Ongoing fundraising will seek to eventually see the creation of a canopy walk, as well as upgrades to pathways, the visitor center and railway garden, and expand the café and kitchen area.

The Sims Education Center was named in honor of longtime supporters Mac and Joanne Sims. Both have volunteered at Fernwood since 1976. Mac is also a former interim director and Joanne served as campaign chair. They will be in attendance Sunday to celebrate the building’s completion with the community.

With the nonprofit seeking to preserve and protect more than 105 acres of gardens, woodlands, ravines, marshes, restored prairie and river frontage, the education center could help to emphasize this mission will serving as a local resource, Line said.

“This will allow us to have the education center be a bit of a hub,” she said. “They can enjoy the library. The kids can just sit there and read. I think it will be a space where people will spend a good deal of time in.”

Line said she looks forward to seeing this activity after years of planning the building.

“I know I’m speaking for the whole staff when I say, ‘we just can’t wait,’” Line said.

Looking back on the education center’s creation, Line said Fernwood has the community to thank.

“We are so grateful for the support from our local community, from our regional foundations, our members,” Line said. “It has been humbling.”

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