NY DEC, Friends of Five Rivers Break Ground for New Education Building

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NY DEC, Friends of Five Rivers Break Ground for New Education BuildingDonation Paves Way for “Guided School Program” Facility

10/26/2009 – New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis today announced that the agency is partnering with the non-profit group Friends of Five Rivers to construct a new education building at the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar (Albany County).

Friends of Five Rivers, a citizens’ group that supports education initiatives at the center, facilitated a $500,000 donation to build a new “Guided School Program” building for students. Since 1980, Friends of Five Rivers has coordinated the administration of the program, which provides on-site, outdoor lessons to classes throughout the school year. The program had been based in an aging building called the Goose Lodge since the mid 1980s. Several years ago, Friends of Five Rivers approached DEC about underwriting construction of a new facility.

The donation was given by the Repass family of Marion, Mass., through Friends of Five Rivers. Their daughter, Wendy Repass Suozzo, was a longtime educator at Five Rivers and ran the Guided School Program for many years.

“This is a momentous day for Five Rivers, which has been a popular destination for students, local residents and visitors for decades,” Commissioner Grannis said at a groundbreaking ceremony at the center. “We are grateful to the Repass family for their donation that will make the Guided School Program building possible. And we are proud to point out that our long-standing partnership with Friends of Five Rivers has helped countless children and families build memories of this special place. This is an example of a public-private partnership at its best and we look forward to continuing to work together to connect New Yorkers to nature.”

“As fewer and fewer children spend time outdoors understanding and appreciating our natural environment, educational centers such as this one become even more essential,” said Judith Enck, Governor David A. Paterson’s Deputy Secretary for the Environment. “We are eternally grateful to the family of Wendy Repass Suozzo for their generosity. Working with Friends of Five Rivers and the dedicated professional staff of the Department of Environmental Conservation, Wendy has inspired the establishment of a community resource that will touch thousands of our children. I can think of no greater legacy that honors Wendy’s passion for environmental education and stewardship.”

“Thirty years ago, my daughter, Wendy, helped initiate the Guided School Program to introduce students to the wonders of the great outdoors. With this donation, our family is very pleased to be able to enhance this vital program in Wendy’s memory,” said Herb Repass, who was joined by his wife, Peggy, at the ceremony.

RoseAnne Fogarty, president of the Friends of Five Rivers, highlighted the volunteer instructors who would be the primary users of the new building. “The Guided School Program is one of the best examples of the partnership between DEC and the Friends,” Fogarty said. “Since 1978, the DEC staff naturalists have trained volunteers in environmental studies, and the volunteers have contributed their passion for nature and for sharing it with schoolchildren. The new building recognizes a successful partnership of more than 30 years, and I know that partnership will continue and grow.”

Located just outside Albany, Five Rivers began as a state-run game farm but was converted into an environmental education center in 1970. Its 400-plus acres includes 12 miles of trails and interior roads, 16 ponds and wetlands, and expanses of forest, field and brush habitats.

DEC worked with the state Office of General Services to develop a Five Rivers master plan in 2007, which recommended building a new home for the school program. OGS determined the old building had outlived its useful life and was too costly to maintain. DEC staff will construct the new facility.

The new building will serve as a classroom for student orientation before venturing outside, or for use during inclement weather. It will also provide space for volunteer instructors to prepare lessons and to store teaching materials. And it will afford an opportunity to showcase “green” architecture and landscape design to upwards of 100,000 visitors annually.