New Orleans, LA, USA — The restoration of the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center passed a significant milestone Thursday when the Audubon Commission voted to award a $7 million construction contract that clears the way for the sprawling eastern New Orleans attraction to return to its proper place as a treasured green space for family recreation and environmental education.
BelouMagner Construction of Metairie is scheduled to begin work on the 86-acre site in Joe Brown Park by midsummer, with a grand opening of the project’s first phase planned for 2016. Billes Partners is the architect for the project.
The Phase 1 restoration will bring back many of the popular features that were built in the years following the Nature Center’s 1980 opening, including a planetarium, an 8,500-square-foot Exhibit Pavilion, a glass and steel greenhouse Botany Center, classrooms, interactive educational exhibits, a network of trails and covered boardwalks, extensive landscaping and parking. The design will allow for exhibits to be moved easily to convert indoor space for community events.
Restoration of a maintenance facility is already underway.
“All of us at Audubon Nature Institute are excited to be part of the many wonderful things happening in New Orleans East,” said President and CEO Ron Forman. “And we look forward to working side by side with the community to make this facility a must-see destination for locals and visitors alike.’’
Built three decades ago to address an urgent community need for environmental education programming, the new Nature Center will take advantage of technological advances and construction techniques that have become more environmentally friendly and hurricane resistant.
The Louisiana Nature Center opened its doors on March 23, 1980, offering a scenic interpretation of the Mississippi River Delta and Louisiana Coastal Zone in Joe Brown Park. It was among the first facilities of its kind to receive and maintain accreditation by the American Association of Museums.
In 1993, the Nature Center’s board of trustees approached the Audubon Nature Institute about a merger. Recognizing that the two organizations shared a commitment to inspire people of all ages to appreciate the natural world, an agreement was forged a year later to take advantage of Audubon’s proficiency in development, marketing, finance and human resources.
Renamed “Audubon Louisiana Nature Center,’’ the attraction thrived under its new structure, welcoming about 85,000 annual visitors, including 45,000 students who were served by outreach programs.
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath left the Nature Center under six feet of water for more than a month. Its forests were severely damaged and its interpretive spaces were destroyed.
The Nature Center has remained closed since the storm as Audubon’s leadership met with representatives of FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, city and state government and community leaders to map out a restoration strategy.
Demolition of structures damaged by the 2005 levee breaks was largely completed last year.
The city of New Orleans has launched a major rebuilding effort in Joe Brown Park, restoring recreational areas and adding two new stadiums for high school football and track. The Nature Center restoration is an integral part of the master plan for the area.
The new, state-of-the-art facility will introduce generations of Louisiana and Gulf Coast families to the wonders of the fragile ecosystems that they call home.