Monday, December 14, 2009

$7M Expansion for APEC in Douglaston by Liz Rhodes - Queens Chronicle

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Alley Pond Environmental Center, headquartered in a former patio furniture store on Northern Boulevard in Douglaston, will be expanded. Six modular units will be added.

Alley Pond Environmental Center is about to get a $7 million makeover.

The popular nature center at 228-06 Northern Blvd. in Douglaston has been bursting at the seams for years, but there is little room to expand because of the adjacent park and marshes. “You can’t double the footprint without encroaching into the park,” said Irene Scheid, APEC executive director. “We can’t go to two floors because we would need an expensive elevator and because of the marshland,” which couldn’t take the extra weight.

Instead the city, which operates the nature center, has decided to install six modular units that will be connected to the existing building via a walkway. The APEC facility — which originated as an outdoor furniture store — will be gutted, redesigned and have a new floor and walls installed.

“We will make it as green as possible,” Scheid said. “We hope the work will start next August.”

More than $5.5 million has been allocated by area elected officials including state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), Borough President Helen Marshall, Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck), Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and the entire Queens City Council delegation. The rest has come from a three-year fundraising effort.

The reason why the project is costing so much money is due to the marshlands. The city has to put out a contract for soil tests and borings for the modular units, according to Scheid, and that it’s currently “in a holding pattern.”

The city wants to ensure that the modulars don’t sink and are firmly grounded before their installation. Scheid said the units will add 5,000 square feet of additional space.

She believes they may be utilized primarily by staff, but exactly how the new space will be used has yet to be determined. But while construction is going on, Scheid promised all programs will continue in the modular units until the remodeled building is complete.

The director expects the work to take a year. “We will be cramped for awhile and space will be limited for larger events such as our square dances,” Scheid said.

The last renovation was done 10 years ago when a new kitchen, two bathrooms, a pre-kindergarten room and a computer system were added.

APEC encompasses 150 acres of woodland, meadows and fresh and saltwater marshes. It was founded by a group of teachers in 1972, who were concerned about the lack of environmental education in the public school curriculum.

Today, the center features miles of natural trails through the park, extensive classes for children and environmental programs for the entire family. Upcoming events in 2010 include a tea and treasures sale on Feb. 28, square dance on March 20, walk for APEC on April 18 and a blood drive on April 20.

The center serves 41,000 children a year and 14,000 adults.

“We have 10,000 school students on a waiting list,” Scheid said. “There is a need for such programs.”

APEC is open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.