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Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Chrystal Dunker, director of the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, stands in its new classroom at Sparks Park in Lakefield.

Prairie Ecology Bus Center installs new building

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

LAKEFIELD -- After years of dreaming and weighing options, the Prairie Ecology Bus Center (PEBC) has moved and installed a new educational building on its site at Sparks Park on the north side of Lakefield.

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PEBC's long-term goal is to have a nature and interpretive center. In the meantime, though, it needed room to grow their programs and classes.

"In the past, we looked into portable classrooms, but they were all too expensive," PEBC Director Chrystal Dunker explained. "But when the quote for this building came in, it was quite reasonable, even with the moving costs."

PEBC and the city of Lakefield had been in discussion about partnering on a building construction project. "But," said Dunker, "it made more sense to put a foundation under this building and put the construction plans on hold for a while."

The building had previously been used as overflow classrooms for the Eagle Lake School District.

Dunker said one of PEBC's board members found the building listed on Craigslist, an online sales and service site.

The building is 28 feet by 70 feet and contains two classrooms, each approximately 24 feet by 30 feet. One of the classrooms will be used primarily for PEBC events and classes. The other will be available for public use.

"Half the building will be for the Ecology Bus Center," said Dunker, "and the other half will be available for the community to use -- private groups, families or scout groups."

The rooms comfortably fit 30 people for environmental seminars and activities but can also host many more for educational meetings.

PEBC is waiting for natural gas to be installed for heating. Needed piping is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

When the sidewalks are complete, the building will be handicap accessible.

According to Dunker, PEBC and the city of Lakefield hope to have bathroom, showers and a picnic shelter built by the end of next summer and will seek grant dollars to complete the project.

PEBC is excited to be able to host additional classes and events in the new building.

"One thing we've talked about doing for a long time and now finally have the space for is themed birthday parties," Dunker said.

Families will be able to choose an hour-long nature themed program. The second hour will be for cake and presents. The first PEBC birthday party will be in a couple of weeks, and it's hoping to have many more.

PEBC also hopes to be able to offer regular home-school programs and more adult programs, seminars and teacher workshops.

Funds for the building were raised through private solicitations, anonymous foundation contributions and grant dollars, Dunker said. "Our grand announcement about the building was at the Steak Fry in August. We also announced it in our newsletter and were happy to have good support from the public."

The PEBC is a local environmental non-profit that was started in 1990 by a small group of Jackson County citizens. It is the home of the Prairie Schooler Ecology Bus, a state-of-the-art mobile scientific laboratory and classroom designed to educate schoolchildren and adults about the environmental and natural sciences. Its winter schedule is available on its website at www.ecologybus.org.

"Having this classroom is the next step towards reaching our long-term goal of having a nature center in the park," Dunker said. "While that is some ways off, until the economy turns around, this is a huge step towards reaching out to the local communities."

Daily Globe Reporter Alyson Buschena may be reached at

376-7322.

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