City Council discusses plans for new regional conservation office

Tuesday, August 7, 2007 | 2:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Columbia City Council wants to talk more with the Missouri Department of Conservation about its plans to centralize Columbia’s regional headquarters and add an education and training portion to its facilities.

Denise Brown, assistant director of the conservation department, presented the plan to the council before its regular meeting.

“At this point it is a very conceptual project" that needs further discussion, Brown said.

The conservation department currently has two Columbia locations: the central region’s main base off Old 63 and the Resource Science Center in cooperation with MU at College Avenue and Stadium Boulevard. Both of these buildings face major renovations that could be costly if the buildings are to be maintained.

“We have two facilities of sufficient age in desperate need of repair,” Brown said. “We had to decide whether to invest further in these buildings or find a new one which would meet more of the infrastructure of needs and incorporate more of a public element.”

The project presented to the council on Monday would combine the 75 conservation department workers from the two locations into a centralized location, as well as add interactive and educational public components to the same location.

One potential location suggested during the presentation was the Phillips/Crane property. The city of Columbia has proposed building a 320-acre park on the 560-acre property. Brown said the conservation department would ask for 10 acres of the property for its project. Three separate spots on the property have already been chosen that would be ideal for its needs and separate from the city plans for fields within the park. However, while the Phillips/Crane farm was the only property discussed for the project, it is only a preliminary idea and other locations will also be discussed, Brown said.

“We think to do justice to the concept we’re looking at, we would need about 10 acres,” Brown said.

The project would also implement plans for fish and wildlife programs available to the public as well as other nature education programs. Brown cited The Anita B. Gorman Conservation Discovery Center in Kansas City and the Northeast Regional Conservation Education Center in Kirksville as examples of multifunctional centers the department would use for reference in planning.

Mayor Darwin Hindman spoke in support of furthering the discussion and developing the conservation department’s ideas.

“I think this is very exciting,” Hindman said. “I think surely the council feels the same way about it. I will discuss it with enthusiasm.”

Council members Karl Skala and Barbara Hoppe also spoke in favor of the project.

Councilman Jerry Wade said it was important the conservation department and the city keep an open line of communication with the project, as the end result will have to be achieved together.

The council agreed to further discussion on the project, and allow the conservation department to write a formal proposal for the project to be presented later.

“From my personal perspective, I would like for us to have a finite proposal by spring that would include a detailed outline of a decided upon location and structure,” Brown said.

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