PNC DONATES $1 MILLION FOR PARK EDUCATION CENTER - COURIER JOURNAL

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The PNC Foundation is providing $1 million to build an environmental and scientific education center, primarily for young children, that officials believe will help turn the Parklands at Floyds Fork into “a living laboratory.”

The PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation will become the education center of the 4,000-acre recreation corridor being formed along Floyds Fork in eastern and southeastern Jefferson County. The 3,500-square-foot building will be built in the Beckley Creek Park area of the Parklands, off Beckley Station Road near Interstate 64.

“Hands-on learning will promote deeper understanding,” said David Jones, the co-founder of Humana Inc. who has raised tens of millions of dollars for the Parklands and whose family has donated millions more to the effort. “The environmental benefits (of the project) will be tremendous. It is a magnificent gift.”

Work on a nearby sprayground and playground recently began in the linear park being sponsored by 21st Century Parks. Construction of the education center is expected to begin next spring, with completion around May 2012.The $1 million gift should cover the full project cost. It is the largest gift ever made by the PNC Foundation in the Louisville market; the foundation gets its primary funding from PNC Financial Services Group.

At a news conference at the site Tuesday morning, officials said the education center will include a welcome area with displays and exhibits, two multi-purpose classrooms accommodating as many as 30 people each, a resource center for teachers, a lobby, restrooms and storage space.

The Louisville Science Center has agreed to help program activities. “We are thrilled to be part of the project,” said Joanna Haas, the Louisville Science Center’s executive director.

Dan Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Parks, said the achievement center will be designed to accommodate field trips, school and scouting events, adult weekends and family activities, with the intent to “stimulate curiosity and creative thinking.”

The Joneses were quick to credit Charles Denny, PNC Bank’s regional president for Kentucky-Tennessee, for playing a large role in arranging the gift. The effort fits with PNC’s national 10-year, $100 million bilingual initiative to improve school readiness for pre-kindergarten children.

The center “will bring science to life” for the children, Denny said. “It will affect generations to come.”

Jason Crowder, project designer with Bravura, the interpretive center architectural firm, said the building is intended to reflect a Kentucky tobacco barn, with a combination of black-stained, light-exposed and natural stained woods. The exterior also will feature some glass, and the metal roof will be flat.

Children from Friends School on Breckenridge Lane took part in science activities at tables set up under a tent to promote the plans for the educational center.

The Floyds Fork recreation corridor is intended as a suburban counterpart to the park and parkway system in Louisville designed by Frederick Law Olmsted a century ago.

The development will extend from near Shelbyville to Bardstown roads along 27 miles of the fork. About 80 percent of the land, however, is to remain in its natural, passive state. In addition to 21st Century Parks, a land-conservation group headed by former Lt. Gov. Steve Henry named Future Fund and Louisville Metro Parks have assembled nearly 4,000 acres for public use.

Led by David Jones, more than $100 million in public and private funding has been raised to acquire the land and develop the planned facilities, designed by the firm of Wallace Roberts & Todd. U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., secured $38.5 million in federal money to help develop the parkland.

The sponsors have set a goal to raise a total of $113 million to fully fund the Parklands. The construction budget, including roads and infrastructure, is about $75 million, with the entire park development to be completed around 2015.

Beckley Creek Park projects, also expected to be under construction next year, are to include: a 50-acre open space suitable for arts and crafts shows and festivals; an overlook; a picnic pavilion; a dog park; a wetland for wildlife; the Gheens Foundation Lodge; an amphitheater; an office for a park ranger; a small operations center; three athletic fields; trails; and a central tree-lined promenade called the Grand Allee.

Beckley Creek will be the northern most of four large park areas to be developed along Floyds Fork. The Parklands areas, from north to south, have been named for creeks feeding into Floyds Fork — Beckley Creek, Pope Lick, Turkey Run and Broad Run parks.

Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at (502) 582-7089.

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