Vision for Ford Nature Center coming to life

Peering into the Ford Nature Center, it doesn’t look the way patrons may remember.

Exposed wood and brick, with floorways covered with dust, are now the norm as it undergoes redevelopment.

“We’re just excited about it. It’s been a really fast spring and summer as far as work here,” said Chris Litton, director of development for Mill Creek MetroParks.

Asbestos abatement began in February with exterior work starting in June.

On Thursday, Justin Shrader, a laborer with United Contractors Inc. of Brookfield Township, was cutting nails that hold floor joists in the basement of the stone mansion, which was built in 1913.

Shrader explained that new support beams will be installed.

A stage house will be repurposed from storage into an education building with a classroom.

Also included in the plans are smaller educational spaces, a rooftop garden, exhibits and a gift shop.

The interior work should be done in about a year.

“This time next year we should be wrapping up and putting the finishing touches on the inside,” Litton said.

Work is being completed in phases for the $3 million Ford Nature Center Redevelopment Project.

Funds are still being raised, Litton said.

Most of the money generated has come from more than 130 “everyday donors,” while larger donations from the Ward Beecher family, Finnegan family and Youngstown Foundation have been gifted to help the project.

Much of the money for the redevelopment was raised at once, and then things plateaued prior to work starting.

As work has progressed, interest in the project has been sparked again, Litton said.

Donors have been inquiring about how the process is moving along, he said.

A collection of photos taken by administration and crews is updated regularly on the park website, Scroll down to “Ford Nature Center.”

Donated to the park in 1968, the Ford Nature Center opened as the headquarters for nature education in 1974.

Since the beginning of work this year, programs normally held at the center have been shifted elsewhere in the park district, while equipment, animals and paperwork have been placed at off-site locations.

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