Conservation board cuts ECO Center's cost by $350,000

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Plans for a smaller, less costly Education Conservation Opportunities (ECO) Center are on the drawing board.

Dennis Sohl, Plymouth County Conservation director, said conservation board members decided to cap the center's cost at $500,000 and cut one-third of its large meeting room space.

Those changes came about after the conservation department's request for a $400,000 state grant to help pay for the ECO Center was denied in September.

The smaller room means there is seating for 100 people compared to 180, Sohl said.

Board members had initially wanted the room to seat 100, but the architect thought more space was needed for the future, Sohl said.

In addition to cutting the size of the center, Sohl said the board looked at other cost savings such as not paving the parking lot.

Sohl said he has no specifics as to how much savings those cuts will mean.

"By the time we reduce the square footage, that determines the size of a lot of things," he said.

Conservation board members are also seeking donations from individuals and businesses to help pay for constructing an ECO Center, Sohl said.

For example, he said, a $50,000 gift could get the donors name on a room within the ECO Center.

The center was originally estimated to cost $850,000 to be paid for in part with a $400,000 Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Sohl told the Plymouth County Supervisors during their Tuesday meeting the REAP grant was denied, but conservation board members are looking at other options to cut costs.

The supervisors did not discuss what, if any, ramifications would come from its June 3-2 vote to set aside $450,000 in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) money to help pay for the ECO Center.

Supervisor Craig Anderson, who initially voted against the conservation department's request for LOST revenue, said he felt the supervisors were waiting for more information from the conservation department before addressing the issue.

Sohl said the conservation board will continue to discuss the ECO Center, and will meet with the project's architect to look at available options.

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