Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Visitor's Center

Today was beautiful with sunshine and highs in the 70 degrees F in the afternoon.  We had some clouds but no sign of rain.  My "historical blog component" today will show the development of the visitor's center at Rotary Botanical Gardens over the past 25 years.  In essence, the modification from the old Wilcox Sand & Gravel Company office building (seen below) to the Parker Education Center (seen above) is an interesting story.  More on that process further down.  
We had a great turnout of volunteers for both gardening and Spring Plant Sale processing.  Janice and Jenny were in the sale all day with some help from Cindy and Cheryl.  Our volunteers helping tag and organize today included Carol S., Tina, Peggy, Pat R., Mary D., Shirley, Gary B., Nancy B., Janet M., Bev D., Joy, Eva, Kathy P. and many others.  I lost track of everyone as it was so busy but everyone did a great job helping tag and price plants for the sale.  We'll continue this process tomorrow.  Our gardening volunteers included Kay, Eva, Kathy, Myrt and Nancy.  Bob T. renewed his love of air edging and did a nice job too.  We continue to tidy and mulch out in the gardens and aren't far away from planting over the coming weeks.  We also saw Maury, Dr. Yahr (welcome back!), Glenn D., Terry S., Dick H., Kurt, Urban M. and a wide range of volunteers that came in for some cash register training for the upcoming sale.  Apologies to anyone I missed but my memory isn't what it used to be.
After helping out in the sale, both Cheryl and Cindy (half day) were out tidying in the garden.  This weekend will see big visitation out in the gardens (and a Saturday wedding!), so we're getting everything in order.  Pat helped with the sale too and then continued his air edging project in the entrance garden.  He always does a nice job.  Janice was in the sale most of the day with Jenny but both were able to get in the gardens briefly.  Big John and Terry helped with a wide range of projects including plant sale duties, water feature preparations and the installation of more of our 2014 Garden Art submittals (cool Adirondack chairs!).  I had a diverse set of activities today including a road trip for plants.
When Dr. Yahr walked the site that would ultimately become Rotary Botanical Gardens, he saw the building above which had stood for over 75 years and was the original office building for the Wilcox Sand & Gravel Company.  With mining activities ultimately ceasing and the pits finally filling with water (natural springs), the building went through a variety of uses including use as a residence, cattle barn, City storage, etc.  The building was slated for future demolition but Dr. Yahr envisioned this building as the entry point for visitors coming to the future botanical garden on the original 15 acre site situated on City of Janesville property.  In essence, he saved this building and along with a generous donation from local businessman Duane Rath, the building went through a dramatic renovation and became the Rath Environmental Center.  That portion of the current structure still bears that name although the transformation was amazing.  The entire building was gutted, the roof replaced and all the original brick work "re-tucked".  These images show the progression of this work which involved help from countless volunteers, the Wisconsin Conservation Corps and craftsmen from the General Motors Jobs Bank program.  When I came to the gardens in 1998, that building housed an office upstairs for seven of us and the first floor included bathrooms, a small gift shop, meeting room and a solarium as well (later removed).  This building served as the primary visitors center for the first 11 years of the gardens' history.  A two year capital campaign starting in 1999 raised funds to add a 10,000 square foot addition to this structure and our Horticulture Center.  Named the Parker Education Center, this new addition includes an expanded gift shop, atrium, expanded bathrooms, meeting space, an education classroom, storage and other amenities.  The original Rath Environmental Center is primarily expanded office space which was vital as well.  This brief history doesn't do this transformation justice but the photos below will help tell the story.



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