The construction of a new agriculture center is one step closer to becoming a reality thanks, in part, to the city of Naperville. During its July 20 meeting, the Naperville City Council authorized the transfer of $1.2 million to Naper Settlement to help make it possible.
The 4,250-square-foot space is envisioned to be a state-of-the-art center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). Once built, it will create a hub, dubbed the Benck Family Agricultural Interpretative Center, between Herman and Anna Hageman Memorial Thresher Hall and the agriculture lab.
The agriculture center intends to serve as a way of preserving and making sense of Naperville’s history to help inform how its future is shaped. Naperville has grown since its incorporation in 1857. Naper Settlement doesn’t want the city to lose track of its agricultural history.
Naper Settlement has a long history of tracing Naperville’s farming story and showcasing how it relates to the region and the country.
“We have to look back and make sure that the story of our farmers has a perpetual home, here, at Naper Settlement,” Naper Settlement President and CEO Rena Tamayo-Calabrese said.
Tamayo-Calabrese said that telling the “story of our agrarian roots here and the contributions that they made to the growth and to the anchors that are in Naperville” is important.
“We feel tremendous pride not just to keep their story preserved and in our storage facility, but to be able to use their stories as a teaching tool for our community is the kinds of thing that museum dreams are made of,” she said.
Areas of Opportunity
The agriculture center provides an opportunity for Naper Settlement to expand program offerings to help entice new and returning visitors to trek the grounds of Naper Settlement. Each year, it is visited by more than 35,000 children from 112 school districts throughout the state.
The agriculture center will allow Naper Settlement to fill what Tamayo-Calabrese describes is an area of need. She recounted the talks she’s had with the leadership of the agricultural-based programs at the University of Illinois, Illinois State University and Joliet Junior College.
“We, here, in Illinois are losing students to other neighboring states because they get interested in agriculture too late, and agriculture is one of the top industries in the state of Illinois,” Tamayo-Calabrese said.
That’s when Naper Settlement decided it wanted to help create that pipeline.
“What we can certainly do is to help fill a void and to help the residents in our own community understand that, right now, there’s a pretty high percentage of really good paying jobs in agriculture going unfilled because there’s not enough people to do those jobs,” Tamayo-Calabrese said.
Construction Cost and Timeline
The construction of the agriculture center will cost $4 million, with funding sources from grants, donors, corporations and foundations.
Naper Settlement is expected to hold a private groundbreaking event on Sept. 19, with the agriculture center’s construction starting at the end of October and ending by July 1, 2022.
Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.
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Photo courtesy of Naper Settlement.