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The Education Center and Learning Campus Garden

PHOTO: the Education Center

on April 23, 2015
The new seven-acre Regenstein Learning Campus, opening in July 2016, includes the Education Center and Learning Campus Garden. The Learning Campus will advance the Chicago Botanic Garden's influence as a science and education institution.

Breaking New Ground

In April 2015, the Chicago Botanic Garden broke ground for its new Regenstein Learning Campus, including its Education Center and the Learning Campus Garden. When it opens in the summer of 2016, the Education Center—the heart of the Learning Campus—will be a hub for plant-based community and civic engagement, intergenerational learning, hands-on coursework, and health and wellness activities. 

Children at Camp

The Education Center will enable the Chicago Botanic Garden to significantly expand programs for early childhood education and to train a wide audience of early childhood caregivers and educators in the theory and practice of nature play. In September 2016, the Garden will launch the Nature Preschool, with nature play integrated into all parts of the curriculum. Existing programs such as My First Camp and Little Diggers will be able to expand, diminishing or even eliminating wait lists. The educational and hugely popular Butterflies & Blooms exhibition will become a permanent feature of the Education Center, continuing to delight young and old alike. School groups from around the Chicago region will continue to benefit from field trips to the Garden, with the Learning Campus expanding educational opportunities.

The Education Center also will anchor the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Botanic Garden. Some adult courses traditionally taught elsewhere in the Garden will shift to the Learning Campus, including classes in botanical arts and horticulture. A typical day at the Education Center might begin with adult wellness and lifestyle classes in the early morning, followed by early childhood and Camp CBG or school field trip programs throughout the morning and early afternoon, and concluding with scout badge programs in the late afternoon and adult cooking and horticulture courses in the evening.

New Education Center, New Programs

The Astellas Atrium will divide the Education Center into the Grainger Wing for classroom education and a public wing for community programs. The Grainger Wing will feature ten classrooms, including two dedicated to early childhood development, and a nature laboratory for students to investigate plants. The two early childhood classrooms and one regular classroom (primarily for adult use) will open to an outdoor space. The public wing will contain two larger rooms for wellness classes, meetings, plus the ITW Kitchen Classroom, where students will learn to prepare dishes made from fresh ingredients. A second-floor office suite will accommodate staff.

Garden educators are developing new program concepts for the Education Center that illuminate the genius of nature and the cross-disciplinary knowledge behind plant science research, development, and discovery. These programs include the following:

  • Defending the Pollinators: As a core feature of the Education Center's programming and informal messaging to its audiences, the Garden will create an integrated pollinator story consisting of the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition, an observational beehive filled with our most familiar pollinator, the honey bee, and other media that help visitors understand our reliance on pollinators and what threatens and protects them.

  • The Chemistry and Physics of Cooking: Within the ITW Kitchen Classroom, participants will explore the math and science of cooking and the processes that transmute carbohydrates, starch, and protein into nutritional failure or success. 

The entrance to the Education Center


Booth Hansen, the prominent architectural firm whose work won national awards for the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, designed the 25,000-square-foot, curving, two-story Education Center with sustainability input from experts at the Rocky Mountain Institute. Engineered for Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) designation by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Education Center will use recycled and low-carbon building materials, solar panels, 90 percent natural daylight, and a rainwater capture and storage system. The green features will serve as a teaching tool, with the Education Center tracking its energy and water usage and making real-time data available to visitors via a “dashboard.” 

With the light-filled Astellas Atrium providing an entrance and a venue for interpretive artwork, an observational beehive introducing visitors to the pollinator story, and peek-through windows showing the internal mechanics of the building’s sustainability features, the Education Center will be a destination for Garden visitors. 

The Learning Campus Garden

The south end of the Education Center will open onto a terrace overlooking a multisensory discovery garden. The Learning Campus Garden will invite the sort of nature play so essential to instilling an appreciation of plants and the natural world in the young and the young-at-heart. Visitors of all ages and abilities will appreciate the garden’s beautiful, engaging, play-inspiring landscape of trees, grass, water, flowers, rocks, logs, and places for exploring. Renowned landscape designer Mikyoung Kim provided the concept vision for the Learning Campus Garden; Jacobs/Ryan Associates is adapting the concept into a design that will incorporate native plants, and all materials will be of local and sustainable manufacture, such as granite sourced from Minnesota.

The Learning Campus Garden will include sugar maple, aspen, and redbud groves, an expansive lawn that gently slopes downward with sculpted landforms, a willow tunnel, and “rooms” of arborvitaes and hornbeam. A stream looping around the lower floodplain will feature large boulders and “loose parts” play areas to encourage nature-play. Natural landforms and mown paths will encourage parents to allow even their smallest children to freely explore the area. The Learning Campus Garden, including a terrace connecting it to the Education Center, exemplifies the plant-centered outdoor classroom concept.

A classroom in the Education Center

The Keep Growing Strategic Plan

The Regenstein Learning Campus—including the Education Center—is part of “Keep Growing,” a ten-year strategic plan launched in early 2010 that guides the Garden’s work. The plan includes a $125 million capital and endowment initiative. Also part of the strategic plan is the Kris Jarantoski Campus, a new plant production facility and garden just starting to take shape on the Garden’s south end.

Read about the Regenstein Learning Campus, including the Robert R. McCormick Plaza and entry drive, Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden, and Kleinman Family Cove.

Education Center Floor Plan

The Regenstein Learning Campus is made possible by the generous support of the Regenstein Foundation, others listed below, and many other contributors.

The Education Center and Garden is made possible by the generous support of the Grainger Foundation; Astellas USA Foundation; Arthur D. Collins, Jr., and the Collins Family Foundation; the Hunter Family; ITW; an anonymous donor; the Woman's Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society; the Public Museum Capital Grants Program, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Museum; the Harris Family Foundation, and Cate and Rick Waddell. 

Funding for the Robert R. McCormick Foundation Plaza and entry drive was provided by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

The Grunsfeld Children's Growing Garden is made possible through the generosity of Esther Grunsfeld Klatz and Ernest A. Grunsfeld III; the Robert R. McCormick Foundation; the Guild of the Chicago Botanic Garden; and the Public Museum Capital Grants Program, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Museum.

The Kleinman Family Cove is made possible by the generous support of the Annette and Bernard Kleinman Family.