By Ann Marie Shambaugh
The Zion Nature center opened in 2002 in a building owned by Zionsville Community Schools, but continued growth in the student population is causing the district to look for space to expand wherever it can.
According to a report released by the Indiana Business Research Council, ZCS is projected to have 8,475 students in the district for the 2025-2026 school year, an approximate 30 percent increase from the 2015-2016 school year.
“It is my expectation that the (nature center) space will be used for offices,” ZCS Supt. Scott Robison stated. “Our enrollment continues to grow, and every space the district owns must be maximized to avoid building or leasing until absolutely necessary.”
With that in mind, officials from the Town of Zionsville began looking for other options to house its nature center. They approved a solution in late 2015: a new building near Heritage Trail Park that will house the nature center and could also serve as a temporary or backup town hall, if needed.
Zionsville Supt. of Parks & Recreation Matt Dickey said he expects the move to happen sometime in the spring of 2017, although the official timeline won’t be set until after the town accepts bids on the project. Until then, he and Park Naturalist Mindy Murdock are working to plan the new space and coordinate the logistics of a move that includes live animals, tanks and rotating exhibits.
The new, 5,000-square-foot building has approximately 1/3 more space than the nature center’s current building, but Dickey said it will equate to approximately twice as much accessible space for the public. The current building includes an attic and basement that are not open to the public in an aging building that once served as the ZCS central office.
Dickey said he’s most looking forward to having the nature center housed in a building designed for that use, but he will miss a few things about the old space.
“There was a certain cottage kind of charm to our current location that we won’t have, and it will take time to develop some things, like the outside garden,” he said. “We’ll certainly miss our large, overhead shade-tree canopy.”
Dickey said the move will likely happen slowly, with stored exhibits being relocated first and animals last, with as little disruption to service as possible.
“Our hope at least is not to close it at all,” he said. “There may be some different experiences available depending on when (visitors) would come during the moving process.”
Once the nature center is in its new home, the town hopes to expand its hours. Because it is currently on Eagle Elementary property, its open hours are restricted to when visitors won’t disrupt the school day.