Clean up continues after hail damages conservatory

August 4, 2011 6:24:57 PM PDT
Just over a month ago, a hail storm caused millions of dollars in damage to the Grant Park Conservatory.

Some displays and outdoor gardens have reopened but the clean up continues. The storm damaged about 60 percent of the conservatory, which is known as one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the country.

While most of the glass has been removed by hand or vacuum from the room called the Show House, you can still find small pieces hiding in the dirt. Conservatory Director Mary Eysenbach says the removal process is slow and complicated because it is basically rebuilding a glass house.

"Every time we see the light at the end of the tunnel, the light moves," Eysenbach said. "These roofs are built like your roof at home, so there are shingles that lie on shingles that lie on shingles, but these shingles are made of glass. If one piece is broken, you might have to remove six or seven pieces to get to the one piece that's broken."

One of the conservatory's most valuable collections is in the Fern Room, where some plants are over 200 years old. While the glass roof has been replaced with a shade cloth, crews have yet to begin removing the broken glass from the plants. To shield themselves from falling glass, staff members walk around with a homemade plywood parasol.

"There is a lot of glass in these taller plants. The contractors are planning, actually, on bringing a lift in to be able to get to the tops of the plants and pick the glass out. You don't want to just knock the glass down because now you're just going to have to remove it twice," Eysenbach said.

The process of returning the Garfield Park Conservatory is not only tedious but expensive. The cleanup alone costs over $2 million, and that does not include rebuilding roofs and replacing plants.

"That's another whole process, another whole bucket of money," said Eunita Rushing, who is with the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. She is ready to roll out a huge fundraising campaign not only to return the conservatory back to the way it was before the storm but make it even better.

"We see it not only as a place of beauty, a place of comfort and joy, but a place where people can come and learn and be educated about plants," Rushing said.

The alliance's fundraising campaign is called Save Garfield Park Conservatory: One Pane at a Time. Rushing says they do need donations.

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