Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve opens Sims Education Center

NILES — Sunday afternoon, members of Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve joined community members in celebrating the opening of the brand-new Sims Education Center.

A grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting took place to commemorate the new building. Those who attended had the opportunity to tour the building, enjoy refreshments and listen to live music.

Project leaders, who have spent four years planning and designing the center, also addressed the crowd.

Executive Director Carol Line thanked the community, Fernwood members, architects and builders who endured a spectrum of temperatures to help them to achieve this goal. She said now the Sims Educations Center will provide a lasting resource to residents that will help them appreciate nature. 

“Our new education center indeed was imagined through eyes looking at the future, ideas and dreams of improving and broadening what we are already doing here in the region as a botanical garden,” Line said. “Fernwood exists to help deepen one’s understanding of the environment and to create better stewards of the planet for all ages.”

The completed Sims Education Center, a 5,500-square-foot building, replaces a 35-year-old nature center and doubles Fernwood’s teaching and learning space. The building features two wings, named Flora and Fauna. Inside, there will be education classes and workshops for youth and adults alike. Libraries holding information for those of all ages will be available. When not used for educational purposes, people can reserve the space for retreats, weddings and other events. 

The building also features sustainable design features like a rain garden and green roof, intended to mitigate rainwater runoff. In the Fauna wing, wide windows that look down into a ravine, bursting with fall colors, will serve as an opportune place for bird watchers.

The education center was named after longtime volunteers Mac and Joanne Sims. Joanne was among those who addressed the crowd Sunday.

“This magnificent building is Fernwood’s bridge to the future, a platform to allow us and encourage us to increase the positive values we bring to our growing community,” Joanne said. “I have been part of the this for a long time [and] there are hundreds who worked tirelessly to make this dream come true.”

Funds for the facility were raised through Fernwood’s ongoing Seed the Future campaign, which has garnered more than $3 million. The education center is approximated to cost about $2 million and is the first phase in a series of changes outlined in the nonprofit’s master plan. Some of those design features include expanding the railway garden, improving walking paths and creating a canopy walk, to name just a few.

The education center will be open during Fernwood’s regular hours and special events, such as the upcoming Halloween Happening and Holiday Market. Fernwood is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Those interested in learning more can visit: fernwoodbotanical.org or call (269) 695-6491.

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