Allerton Park bereft of volunteers as UI explores options for its future

Allerton Park bereft of volunteers as UI explores options for its future

MONTICELLO – The pathways and gardens of Allerton Park lie quietly now, quiet and very wet.

On a normal spring break, they'd still be a bit hushed, but students would be scattered through the park, filling patches of it with their noise and busyness. They would be volunteers, trading their work for room and board while the University of Illinois is on break. They would spend days planting, clearing gardens, moving supplies – pretty much anything necessary in the large park with endless upkeep.

In the last four years, the spring break volunteer-a-thon has attracted anywhere from 10 to more than 30 students.

But this year there are none.

At the end of the fiscal year, the auspices of Allerton will move from the UI Office of Continuing Education to – somewhere else.

"Right now they're just trying to determine what would be the best fit," said Kim Petzing, Allerton's environmental program coordinator.

"Allerton is just such a unique place, it's been really hard for the university to figure out where we belong," she said. "We are continuing education, but we're also a park. We're a formal gardens with art, a conference facility."

The move was prompted also by the changing demands on the Continuing Education office.

"The question of how best to locate Allerton in the university administrative structure has never been an easy one," said Richard Wheeler, the UI vice provost and dean of the Graduate College, in an e-mail. "In this time of revolutionary developments in e-learning and hybrid learning environments, with many new programs being developed for online delivery, it was thought best to allow the Office of Continuing Education to focus squarely on its main mission."

He said administrators still haven't found Allerton – which has been part of Continuing Education since the early '70s – "a new administrative home. Right now, Allerton reports to a transition team in the Office of the Provost."

As they figure out its new "administrative home," the university is looking at all that Allerton offers.

"We still want to offer the quality programs and keep moving in this positive direction that we've been going," Petzing said. "I'm sure there will be some sort of evaluation."

In the meantime, she said, some of the programs, including the spring break student volunteering, are in a holding pattern. "I hope eventually it will come back but I can't put a date on it, unfortunately," Petzing said. "We are doing a study right now on what our current volunteer setup looks like and how can we improve that."

Wheeler said that as the university moves to "address serious maintenance issues in the park, including the repair of badly deteriorated roads and crumbling masonry," it is also looking at funding for the park, which has recently increased in use as a wedding and a music venue, with a barn-turned-concert hall on the property.

Summer camps will continue, however, Petzing said, and visitors and volunteers are still welcome at the park. She said that although wildflowers haven't blossomed yet, some green is poking up from the ground already. "It's gorgeous," she said.

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