As 2020 ramps up, Mill Creek MetroParks’ Ford Nature Center will be going on hiatus.
Expected to be closed for two years beginning Feb. 1 for the Ford Nature Center Redevelopment Project, the building will undergo a series of makeovers totaling about $3 million.
“As a kindergartner in 1974, I remember a class trip there,” said Chris Litton, director of development for Mill Creek MetroParks. “My second day on the job in 2017. … It was deja vu. The center didn’t change in all those years,” he said.
Built in 1913, the stone mansion sits in the northern portion of Mill Creek Park at 840 Old Furnace Road. Donated to the park in 1968, it opened as the headquarters for nature education in 1974. About 18 months ago, park officials identified that the building was “in dire need” of a makeover, said Aaron Young, executive director of the park’s board.
“Only a few minor upgrades” have taken place since 1974, Young said.
Removal of equipment and paperwork inside the center will take up February and part of March, planning director Steve Avery said.
Items that will need to head to storage may be placed in off-site locations or a pod that will be kept on site. Employees will be going through files from the last several decades.
After the cleanup, Avery said abatement of hazardous materials will take place.
In 2017, a hazardous-material sampling was completed. Lead paint was found, along with a small amount of asbestos in old plaster. The amount of asbestos is “extremely low” Avery said.
Once the center is closed to the public, the programs hosted at the building will be
conducted elsewhere in the park district, Avery explained.
DLR Group of Cleveland helped develop renderings for the new vision of the center, Avery said.
Bids for construction of the project will open in March. Once the job is awarded, Avery said park trustees and project planners anticipate starting the work this year.
A number of existing architectural pieces will be kept and incorporated into the new building design. Woodwork, some cabinets and tile will still have that same “ambiance” of the original building, Avery said. “It’s not like we’re removing 100 percent of everything and only keeping the exterior shell,” he explained, adding that many details from the 1913 version of the house will be preserved.
A garage on the property matches the architectural design of the house, and it hasn’t been used for anything except storage. Once it is refurbished, it will be called the Education Building.
Avery said the three-story building will house a large classroom, smaller educational spaces, a gift shop, rooftop garden, exhibits and gift shop.
A grant is paying for some of the project.
“On Nov. 1, 2018, we received the Challenge Grant from the Sandhill Foundation in California,” Litton said.
The grant is being used to match $1 million in donations the Ford Nature Center expects to receive before the end of the so-far successful campaign.
So far, more than 132 donors have given to the cause. A bulk of the money raised came from “everyday donors,” Litton said. That includes individual donors writing checks or dropping off money while they peruse the center.
Larger donations have been made, too, Litton said.
The Ward Beecher family donated $250,000, along with the Finnegan family. Another large donation totaled $350,000, and the Youngstown Foundation sent $100,000.
“People love the park,” Litton said. “The education center is long overdue for some care and renovation.”
The Ford Nature Center sees more than 40,000 visitors a year, including 15,000 schoolchildren. The mansion housing the center was donated to then-Youngstown Township Park District by the Judge John Ford family.
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