Almost a decade after 6 feet of floodwater destroyed the Audubon Louisiana Nature Center in Joe Brown Park in New Orleans East, plans are moving forward to restore the planetarium, exhibition space and other features of the 86-acre site.
The restoration of the center, referred to by the Audubon Nature Institute as a “treasured green space for family recreation and environmental education,” got the green light on Thursday, when the nonprofit agency’s board voted to award the construction contract for the project.
“All of us at the Audubon Nature Institute are excited to be part of the many wonderful things happening in New Orleans East,” Audubon President and CEO Ron Forman said in a news release. “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.”
The project will restore several of the features of the center, including a planetarium, an 8,500-square-foot exhibition space, Botany Center housed in a glass and steel greenhouse, classrooms and interactive exhibits. The project also includes outdoor features such as trails, covered boardwalks, landscaping and parking.
The construction is expected to start in a few months and could wrap up by late 2016, institute spokesman Frank Donze said.
BelouMagner Construction, of Metairie, was selected to build the project.
The nature center was left underwater for more than a month after Hurricane Katrina, causing significant damage to its forests and destroying the buildings. It has remained unrepaired until now, as Audubon officials have worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, city and state officials and community members on the restoration plans, according to the release.
The center opened in 1980 as the Louisiana Nature Center, mixing natural spaces with educational exhibits. It became one of the first centers of its kind to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. The center merged with the Audubon Institute in 1993.
The center attracted about 85,000 visitors a year before Katrina, including about 45,000 students, according to the release.
The project comes after the city built two new high school football and track stadiums in Joe Brown Park. That’s part of the master plan for the area, which also includes the rebuilding of the nature center.
A second phase of development is also anticipated, though there are no specific plans yet. The institute will solicit neighborhood input to determine what should be included in the second phase of the project, Donze said.
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