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Botanical Center aims to educate


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When it's finished this summer, the Quad City Botanical Center will boast a 6,700-square-foot display of blooms, variegated plants, grasses, flowers and rare and endangered botany.

``Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower -- but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.''
-- Alfred Tennyson

ROCK ISLAND -- The Quad City Botanical Center is important to the Quad-Cities because people celebrate lifelong learning, chief operating officer Carol Ehlers said recently.

Whether the people are young or young at heart, she said, the desire for continuous education is always there.

Visitors to the Quad City Botanical Center at 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island, will walk through sun-drenched gardens inside a 70-foot-high glass conservatory that many say will become a landmark. The conservatory will boast a 6,700-square-foot display of blooms, variegated plants, grasses, flowers and rare and endangered botany.

The center also will offer classes on the premises and in schools, a multi-media horticultural library, a garden shop with gifts and books and a 250-seat banquet room for wedding receptions and other events.

``The Quad City Botanical Center's mission is to focus on educational programs,'' Ms. Ehlers said. ``As technology increases, we find people need time to just enjoy the beauty of nature.''

Botanical Center visitors will see a unique building with displays directing their eyes upward, Botanical Center Foundation chairman Allen Dieter said.

``It won't be a one-dimensional facility where you walk around under a canopy of palms and look at plants on the floor,'' he said. ``Stone islands will be placed throughout the conservatory so people can feel, touch and smell the small plants.''

To achieve this vision, ABS Construction Group of Rock Island was chosen construction manager and general contractor early last year. The company immediately began working closely with the Botanical Center board and project architect Roger Hadley of Cedar Rapids to refine the design and establish budgets.

``Without question, the cooperation of various suppliers along with local trade unions has played a major role in keeping the Quad City Botanical Center on target,'' vice president of operations John Arvanis of ABS said.

``Your Quad City Botanical Center construction team invites you to drive past our construction site and view our progress,'' he said. ``The final result of what you see will truly be a beautiful and welcome addition to our Quad-Cities community.''

Besides providing a new attraction for Quad-Cities residents, the center will become one more nationally recognized attraction that benefits the local tourism industry, Ms. Ehlers said. The center will help the Quad Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau attract meetings and conventions to the area.

The Quad City Botanical Center Foundation aims to raise $4.34 million for Phase I construction of the main conservatory, which also will include a waterfall and stream winding into an outdoor pond.

Over the next few years, Phase II construction of the north gardens on land meeting the Mississippi River is expected to begin. Landscape architect Thomas Graceffa and Associates of Rockford is developing a 10- to 20-year master plan for the outdoor gardens. They are expected to include an observation tower and a concert area.

``The northern gardens will be next to the greatest river in the country, so using water in the garden is key,'' Mr. Graceffa said. ``We'll be able to do what can't be done anywhere else because they're not on the river.''

Within three to five years, the foundation may need to raise $1 million to attach two pods, or wings, to the east and west sides of the main building. They could be used for micro-environments such as rain forest or desert displays.

People who join the Botanical Center will receive many benefits, including free admission, program discounts, guest passes and professional plant advice.

Types of membership include:

-- Full-time student, $15

-- Individual, $25

-- Household, $40

-- Charter, $100

-- By Carol Loretz (February 2, 1998)

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