Plan for Kennekuk County Park will get an overhaul

Plan for Kennekuk County Park will get an overhaul

DANVILLE — Vermilion County officials were joined by local labor officials Wednesday to announce plans to revamp a long-term goal of adding a conference center and other amenities to the education center building at Kennekuk County Park, west of Danville.

Vermilion County Board Chairman Mike Marron said it's become apparent to him that the community wants this project to be finished.

"It's important that we are able to get it done, but we need to get it done in the right way," said Marron, who spoke out publicly in early April against a previous plan discussed by the Vermilion County Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization that accepts donations that help pay for "extras" at Vermilion County Conservation District properties, including Forest Glen Preserve, Kennekuk County Park, Heron Park and Lake Vermilion Park. That plan, according to conservation district officials, included scaling back the original plans, leasing park property to a private entity and possibly skirting prevailing wage laws, which drew criticism from local labor officials.

Marron said this needs to be a community project that makes everyone proud, and he called for a review of its entire scope.

"There needs to be a well-thought-out plan. This isn't going to be a short-term plan. This is going to take a while," he said, standing with local labor officials — Randy Johnson with Carpenters Local 243, who's also president of the East Central Illinois Building Trade Association; Todd Smith, Laborer's Local 703; and Mike Arbuckle, Illinois Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 538. Jonathan Myers, president of the Vermilion County Conservation District board, also joined them.

Myers said they will immediately be organizing working-group committees that will incorporate expertise within the community to consider the new scope of the project as well as fundraising for an addition to the education center. He said they will be reaching out to foundation officials for their support as well.

"It's my hope that those who have supported this building and plan in the past will do so in the future," Myers said.

In July 2008, the conservation foundation unveiled architectural renderings for a $4 million, 33,000-square-foot education center featuring classrooms and a timber-frame, 500-seat, 9,758-square-foot conference room with breakout rooms. At the time, Ken Konsis — who retired earlier this year as executive director of the conservation district — said a private $130,000 donation to the foundation got the planning stage rolling, and about $100,000 was leftover to help launch a fundraising and grant-seeking campaign to cover the $4 million price tag.

But several years later, the entire $4 million was not yet raised, and conservation and foundation officials decided to break the project into three phases and go forward with the first phase. And in 2014, a $2.2 million, 7,000-square-foot building, including offices, classrooms and restrooms, was built and dedicated in September of that year, and efforts to fundraise for phases two and three continued. But 10 years later, phases two and three have never been completed.

In explaining why a re-tooling is necessary before trying to complete the last two phases, Marron gave communications infrastructure as an example. There is very little to no cellphone service at the education center building at Kennekuk, no high-speed internet and no lodging nearby.

"If we are going to be competitive, to have a venue where we can go to Naperville and Oak Brook and recruit businesses to have retreats and conferences here, we're going to need high-speed internet and cellphone service," Marron said, explaining that infrastructure like that must be in place first. Also, he said, there needs to be cost estimates, a business plan, a cash-flow plan and input from district staff.

Myers said the working groups, which he wants to organize quickly to work through the summer months, will determine these things and bring their recommendations to the conservation district board in the fall.