COLUMBIA— A large classroom, nature trail and modern labs are among the features in a new regional office the Missouri Department of Conservation plans to build on Columbia's south side.
Construction on 17 acres on Gans Road next to the city's Gans Creek Recreation Area could begin as soon as July and is expected to take 18 to 20 months.
"We expect it ready in spring of 2012," Conversation Department's design and development chief Jacob Careaga said.
On Friday, the Missouri Conservation Commission is scheduled to consider a low bid of $6.17 million from Verslues Construction Co. Inc. of Jefferson City and authorize the project.
"It will be a new public contact office, so folks from the central region can go there, get permits and ask questions," department spokesman Joe Jerek said.
The new facility is designed to include a classroom large enough to house about 100 people for conservation-related programs and meetings, such as hunter education classes.
Visitors to the center would also have the opportunity to get an education on urban conservation on a one-third mile paved trail. The trail is designed to include educational signs about backyard and urban conservation including rain and butterfly gardens as well as native plant displays.
"It's a nice opportunity to have a trail where people can both enjoy nature and learn how to apply conservation principles to their own backyards," Jerek said.
The new facility would replace the regional office located on Hillcrest Drive just off Old 63. Some workers at the agency's research center on College Avenue would also be relocated in the new center.
"We're taking staff from two different campuses and combining them into one for more efficient operation," Careaga said.
The new building will include modern labs for research on natural resource topics including forestry, fisheries and wildlife, including monitoring and managing the state's deer herd and a long-term ecosytem study on forest harvesting.
The research center on College Avenue dates to 1969, and lab equipment and methods have modernized since the construction. Research is taking place in spaces that weren't initially designed as labs but have been modified for research purposes.
"The building itself won't influence the kind of research we do," Resource Science Center Chief Mike Kruse said. "The new facility will take into consideration the kind of work that's done today."
Jerek said the new facility is "much needed" because the current regional office has limited meeting and storage space.
The new facility would have better "energy use, better collaboration between the scientists and the biologists, and a better facility for the public to come learn about conservation and what they can do in an urban setting," Careage said.