PHOTO: The Regenstein Learning Campus, as viewed by drone.

Opening the Doors to a Dream at Learning Campus

Seven years ago, we dreamed of turning a gravel parking lot at the Chicago Botanic Garden into something defining—a place where learners of all ages could explore and become inspired by the natural world.

My name is Eileen Prendergast, and I’m director of education at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time flipping through blueprints of that place, the Regenstein Learning Campus, the new home base for the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. And I’ve been counting the days until we could open the doors to the public.

That day has finally arrived.

PHOTO: The Regenstein Learning Campus, as viewed by drone.
The Regenstein Learning Campus

I never could have imagined the rich details, the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which the Learning Campus connects people to nature. Consider the heart of the campus, the Learning Center, which has 12 indoor and two outdoor classrooms (for cooking, yoga, and other classes, along with space for the new Nature Preschool). The Learning Center is also home to:

  • an art installation that reveals the transitioning shades of the Chicago Botanic Garden throughout the seasons—color rectangles show leaves, stems, berries, or flowers, photographed in extreme close-up,
  • benches made by a master wood-carver from the reclaimed wood of ash trees, and
  • an enclosed indoor beehive that allows honeybees to roam outside—and pollinate flowers in the new Nature Play Garden—and return through a long tube in the Learning Center’s roof.
PHOTO: A young visitor examines the new indoor beehive in front of nature photographed in extreme close-up by artist Jo Hormuth.
A young visitor examines the new indoor beehive in front of nature photographed in extreme close-up by artist Jo Hormuth.

Now the last—and most important—piece of our dream is about to come true. I can’t wait to see the Learning Campus come alive with people—splashing, rolling, climbing, and finding their own inspiration—at the free Opening Celebration. I look forward to meeting you.

PHOTO: Yoga is in session at the new Learning Campus.
Yoga is in session at the new Learning Campus.

Come to the free Opening Celebration, September 10 and 11, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; parking fees apply. Enjoy live music and activities, take home a free plant, and more. Take 10 percent off classes when you sign up on-site on opening weekend (members get 30 percent off). Members are welcome to stop by the lounge for light refreshments and a commemorative gift.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Published by

Eileen Prendergast

Eileen has worked at the Chicago Botanic Garden for over ten years, and has over fifteen years of experience developing hands-on educational programs, most recently focused on encouraging unstructured play time in nature. She enjoys reading, cooking, and playing outside with her five-year-old and three-year-old sons.

5 thoughts on “Opening the Doors to a Dream at Learning Campus”

  1. I don’t know how it’s possible for the Garden to promote this new building and landscape without crediting the architects and landscape architects. The designers and engineers are the part of the team that make ideas assume a physical presence. The Garden does them a grave disservice by not recognizing their creativity – which is the essential spark of all learning.

    1. We do agree that this endeavor—the Regenstein Learning Campus complete with the Nature Play Garden and Learning Center—would not exist without the work of our team of architects and landscape architects. Renowned landscape designer Mikyoung Kim provided the concept vision for the Nature Play Garden. Jacobs/Ryan Associates adapted the design, which incorporates native plants. The Learning Center was designed by Chicago architectural firm Booth Hansen with sustainability input from experts at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Recycled and low-carbon building materials were used in the architecturally distinctive, curving building, which features solar panels, natural daylight for 90 percent of the spaces, and a rainwater capture and storage system. Turner Construction beautifully executed Booth Hansen’s design.

  2. I just registered today! Am I out of luck for the additional 10% off? I thought that amount off would only apply to non-members! Darn. Between my daughter and I we registered for six classes.

    1. So sorry, Linda. The additional 10% discount (30% for members) for our opening celebration is only available on-site during opening weekend, this Saturday and Sunday. We are excited that you signed up for so many classes, however, and look forward to seeing you—a lot!—at our new building. It’s going to be amazing.

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