A partial rendering of the 11,000-square-foot Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center at the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids. Courtesy Blandford Nature Center
A $3.3-million expansion is underway at a local nature center.
Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids recently broke ground on the project to better suit the needs of a growing visitor base.
An additional $7 million is being raised for the center’s endowment fund to help support maintenance and operations.
The new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center will be an 11,000 square foot, LEED-certified expansion with a large auditorium and outdoor amphitheater at the 143-acre nature center.
Dockeray founded the nature center in 1964 as part of the Grand Rapids Public Museum, before it grew into an independent nonprofit over the years.
The groundbreaking was held on Dockeray’s 89th birthday.
The new center should be completed by next summer.
NEWCO Design Build in Grand Rapids is the architect and builder for the project, with Dockeray, The Wege Foundation, The Meijer Foundation and several other West Michigan foundations, families and individuals providing the financing.
“I just can’t believe how far Blandford has come,” Dockeray said. “I never would have imagined that my vision for giving kids a place to keep their boots on the ground would have ended up like this.”
Blandford now sees more than 50,000 visitors a year, which far exceeds the space the original building was meant for when it was built.
Recently, the center, at 1715 Hillburn Ave. NW, has had to turn groups away, Blandford President and CEO Jason Meyer said.
The current staff level of 15 permanent employees will be maintained for the time being.
“The new visitor center, coupled with the transformation of the existing building into an open-air pavilion will triple our capacity,” Meyer said. “We are excited for the opportunities that this new facility will bring to West Michigan.
“The committed individuals in our community that believed in us as we transitioned into our own nonprofit are smiling today. But nobody is smiling more broadly than Mary Jane.”