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Construction Begins on Net-Zero Energy Building

June 8, 2022 12:35 PM

Construction started this week on the first phase of a new environmental education facility that aims to achieve net-zero energy. The building at Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods is designed to replace and expand Lake County Forest Preserves education programming that has been offered in two 1940s-era cabins. 

Forest preserve commissioners, staff and funding partners in the project gathered Friday for a ceremonial groundbreaking and look at some of the materials and systems that will be employed in the new building. "As stewards of healthy landscapes and proponents of climate resiliency, the Lake County Forest Preserves is leading the way in sustainable building technologies," said Executive Director Alex Ty Kovach.

"We are the guardians of the natural capital that sustains the quality of life in Lake County," said Ann Maine, Lake County Forest Preserves commissioner. "This project is an extension of that mission. It is critical to our brand and to our 100-Year Vision for Lake County," she said during the ceremony. 

A net-zero energy building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, reducing the use of nonrenewable energy. The building uses cost-effective measures to reduce energy usage. Featured components and building materials chosen to meet the net-zero energy target include: 

  • A 23.8kW system of rooftop solar panels, a similar size to what is found on a home or small business
  • HVAC systems and mechanical equipment with the highest efficiency ratings
  • Increased insulation values in the walls and roof
  • Strategic placement of high-performing windows to help regulate temperature
  • LED lighting throughout the building
  • Occupancy sensors in rooms and daylight sensors in perimeter spaces
  • EPA Indoor Air Plus requirements for paint and materials
  • Bird-friendly glass windows to help reduce bird strikes

The first phase of construction includes a 3,400-square-foot building with two classrooms, virtual teaching space, a net-zero energy interpretive exhibit area and a 1,000-square-foot screened porch for added teaching space. The $5.4 million project also involves realigning the entry road, installing accessible walkways and a looped educational trail, and extending water, sewer and other utilities. A second phase, which will add two additional classrooms, is planned but currently unfunded. This phase is estimated to cost $2.6 million.

The Forest Preserves and its charitable partner, the Preservation Foundation, received about $3 million in grants and donations for the project, including $2,425,000 from private donors, $513,000 from Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and $50,000 from Medline, a global healthcare manufacturer and distributor based in Northfield. 

Since establishing a Net-Zero Energy Building Program in 2016, Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation has received 70 requests for funding. The Ryerson project is one of just 13 to gain support, said Gabriela Martin, program director for energy at the private foundation. "The education facility really stood out in terms of its thoughtful design. We believe it will have the impact we want these buildings to have," Martin said.

"We're thrilled to be part of this new building that is an educational tool in itself," said Karen Frey, senior philanthropy manager at Medline. "We invest heavily in green technologies that help conserve natural resources and reduce waste within our own operations, and believe in the value of bringing those same solutions to partners that are making a difference in our community through environmental education." 

Media contact: Alex Ty Kovach, Executive Director,, 847-968-3338