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Garfield Park Conservatory seeks recovery aid after storm damages windows

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The Garfield Conservatory sustained significant damage during Thursday night’s hail storm, and has been closed indefinitely as a result.

The 104-year-old conservatory, which made an appearance in Vince Vaughn’s latest movie “The Dilemma,” is an admission-free facility and receives about 100,000 visitors a year. It relies heavily on donations to stay in operation.

Some 13,000 panes from nine production houses, the areas where plants are grown or stored, were shattered.

The production houses and three of the showrooms were closed off due to hanging glass. The ceilings on the historic Fern Room, the Desert House and the Shell House were destroyed. The storm’s winds reached over 90mph and golf ball-sized hail sent shards of glass into plants and on the walkways.

Zvezdana Kubat, a Chicago Park District spokeswoman, called the damage “mind-boggling.”

“There is glass all over the place,” said Eunita Rushing, president of the Garfield Conservatory Alliance. “To see this degree of damage and then to know that there is a potential that it has damaged the plants, it’s heart-wrenching.”

Rushing estimated 80 percent of the panes in the showrooms and production houses were damaged and fell completely, with some shattered panes dangling dangerously from the ceiling.

“We can’t even get in those rooms to begin any kind of cleanup,” she said.

The rooms are so dangerous, work crews have to assess the damage of the ceiling from the safety of the entryways. The first priority is preserving some of the plants in the Fern Room, Rushing said.

The Fern Room suffered severe damage. The room, roughly the size of a basketball court with a massive lagoon in the middle, is one the conservatory’s oldest collections. The swamp-like room was designed to give visitors a glimpse of what Illinois might have looked millions of years ago, according to the Conservatory’s website. The ceiling of the Fern Room is typically whitewashed around this time of year to protect the plants from the summer sun. With so many of the panes destroyed, staff are concerned the sunlight could damage or kill the plants.

The cleanup would have to start with the knocking out the still-hanging glass, which would allow work crews to safely enter the rooms. There is a time crunch to get the glass out so the care and watering routines for the plants can continue.

The conservatory began renovations in 1994, which involved the installation of laminated, double-sided panes in five of the showrooms. It was those renovations that saved these rooms, which sustained no damage during the storm. Rushing said more rooms will need renovations so the conservatory is “not under this threat again.”

“They are going to be costly repairs. We need assistance to overcome these damages.” Rushing had no idea what the repairs could cost.

“The work we do is valuable. The programs are valuable. And they are necessary,” Rushing said, fighting back a tear. “I just hope people will help us, help us to continue our work.”

How can I help?

Donations to the conservatory can be made here:

(WBEZ/Andew Gill)

(WBEZ/Andew Gill)

(WBEZ/Andew Gill)

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