Officials have sought learning center in Central Park for 20 years.
The Volusia County Council approved the ECHO grant for the Environmental Learning Center at their last meeting, so the long-awaited facility in Central Park is finally on track to be built.
“It takes passion and tenacity on the part of the public and city personnel to turn a dream of 20 years into reality,” said Joyce Ebbets recently. She was a city commissioner in the 1990s, and was known for her work for nature preservation and public access in the park. The Joyce Ebbets Fishing Pier in the park was named in her honor.
At a ribbon cutting ceremony, on April 24, to celebrate the completion of the Hand Avenue Upgrade and Lake Interconnect project, Mayor Ed Kelley read a proclamation to honor Ebbets for her work.
“She supported connection of the lakes and the learning center for many years,” he said. ‘She worked to have a habitat for animals, green space, the fishing pier and the boardwalks.”
Ebbets said before the presentation that her experience of living in South Florida, where she saw mistakes made with the Everglades, was a big factor in wanting to have a learning center here.
“It’s important that people appreciate the environment,” she said. “And realize that things should be preserved.”
The next step will be for city staff to work with a contractor to come up with a scope of work and cost estimate for the learning center to present to the City Commission. City Engineer John Noble said he expects a presentation to be made in July.
The general appearance of the center was decided in a previous City Commission workshop, and will be “Florida Cracker” style.
The city will receive $400,000 from the Volusia ECHO Grant Program for the construction of the learning center. The total project cost is estimated at $800,000, with the city’s required match being $400,000.
City officials have already been making plans for the learning center. On April 2, Commissioner Bill Partington, Leisure Services Director Robert Carolin and Landscape Architect Paul MacDonald traveled to Chicago to visit the Little Red School House Nature Center.
Partington said he first heard about the nature center in Chicago when he became commissioner of Zone 4 in 2003. Ebbets had suggested the Little Red School House be used as a model for Ormond Beach because of its similar size and scope.
Partington said the goal of the trip was to create a vision and get city staff started in the planning process, and it turned out better than he imagined.
“The director was so energetic,” he said. “She sparked excitement with Robert and Paul. We got a sense of what it could do in our community. We want to teach the youth to value the assets we have.”
Carolin said the trip made him realize the need to change the exhibits so people can return and learn something new.
“We may base it on the migration of birds, so people can come several times a year,” he said. “It’s going to take some effort, but we’ll make sure it’s exciting for the public.”
Carolin pointed out that many visitors and tourists like to learn about the local environment.
“It’s amazing the amount of wildlife in Central Park,” he said. “Many local people don’t know about it either.”
The nature center could possibly be built by 2016, Carolin said.