Special windows at forest district’s new education center will be a lifesaver for birds

Special windows at forest district’s new education center will be a lifesaver for birds

The bird friendly windows at the environmental education center under construction at the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Aree were installed last week

You wouldn’t know by looking at them, but the windows installed last week at the Lake County Forest Preserve District’s new environmental education center are far from typical.

Besides being triple-paned for ultra-insulating capability, a special film with an ultraviolet impression has been applied inside the windows’ outer layer of glass. Nearly imperceptible to the human eye, birds can plainly see a random pattern — kind of like pick-up sticks — in the glass.

And that’s the point.

“The birds will see that and realize there’s something there,” said Nan Buckardt, director of education for the forest preserve district. “They then avoid the glass.”

Birds don’t see normal glass as a barrier, so they don’t avoid flying into it, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Every year, nearly a billion birds collide with glass, most often at buildings shorter than four stories, the agency reports.

The forest preserve’s new education center, being built in the woods of the Edward L. Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, sits along a migratory flyway. It’s also part of a system of preserves along the Des Plaines River that is considered an important bird area by the National Audubon Society.

Building a highly energy-efficient, net-zero building was important to the district when designing the new education center, but so was protecting the natural resources and wildlife surrounding it, Buckardt said.



“The thing I really pushed for was to make this bird-safe,” she said. “I knew there would be the potential for them to fly into (the building) and kill themselves.”

Manufactured in Germany, assembled in Turkey, shipped to New York and trucked to the construction site at Ryerson, the windows are a significant element in the design and purpose of the $5.18 million project.

With standard glass, birds either see a reflection of the sky or vegetation, or see through to sky and vegetation on the other side, explained Becky Mathis, a landscape architect with the district.

Windows serve as a major design element of the center, and part of the planned educational experience. Sixteen windows of various sizes, including three integrated with the exterior doors, make up 26% of the exterior building envelope, Mathis said.



“One of the key design elements we were hoping to achieve is this inside-outside connection and a celebration of the flatwoods,” she said. “With these windows, I think we were able to achieve that.”

You won’t find these windows at the local home improvement store. The initial bid for the window package was $438,752. Deemed too expensive by the forest district staff, the design and scope was revised and an arrangement made to purchase the window and door assemblies directly from the manufacturer.

Forest preserve commissioners signed off on a price of $226,406.

Manufacturer SHUCO worked with another company called Ornilux, which makes the glass, to integrate the bird-friendly elements into the window assemblies. Some of the windows weigh up to 1,600 pounds.

Buckardt said the district has been told that the education center at Ryerson will be the first certified passive house building in the U.S. with integrated bird-friendly glass.

The building also is designed to be a “net-zero” structure, meaning it will produce as much or more energy than it uses. It is said to be the first public building of its kind in Lake County to be built from scratch.

“These projects are fun to work on — you’re always learning something,” said Curt Schumacker, construction superintendent for Wight Construction Services, the project manager.

The building will have “super insulated” 16-inch-thick exterior walls and, with a variety of other elements, is designed to be airtight, he said.

“Anybody can build a building,” Schumacker said. “Building a net-zero building, there are a lot of layers to it.”

The building is being certified as net-zero as a condition of a $513,000 grant for the project from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. A private donor also has contributed $2.4 million to the project.

The 3,400-square-foot building will include two classrooms, a virtual teaching space, a net-zero interpretive exhibit area and a 1,000-square-foot screened porch.

It’s expected to be open in the summer, replacing and expanding education programming that had been offered in two 1940s-era cabins near the entrance to the 550-acre Ryerson site.

The work also involves realigning the entry road and adding bus parking, installing accessible walkways and a looped education trail, and new utilities sized to service an eventual building addition.