Willowbrook Wildlife Center Master Plan Improvement Project FAQs

Willowbrook Wildlife Center Master Plan Improvement Project FAQs

An ambitious $25.5 million master plan project is planned for Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn that will transform the center and make it the District's first net-zero designed building.

The centerpiece of the project is a 27,000-square-foot wildlife rehabilitation clinic and visitor center that would replace the current 42-year-old building.

Plans also include new outdoor and indoor animal rehabilitation areas, interactive educational exhibits on the wildlife rehabilitation process, an outdoor classroom, an interpretive trail with wildlife observation areas, and outdoor activity spaces that demonstrate how to attract and live in harmony with native wildlife.


What is Willowbrook Wildlife Center?
Willowbrook Wildlife Center is a nationally recognized wildlife rehabilitation facility that provides care and medical treatment to 10,000 sick, injured, and orphaned native wildlife each year. The aging clinic and outdoor rehabilitation area are not adequate for the needs of these wildlife patients.

Woodlands, wetlands, and prairies in DuPage and surrounding areas increase livability for people and wildlife, but urban development fragments larger habitats and presents hazards for wildlife (e.g. bird collisions with windows, vehicles, and power lines). This brings patients to to Willowbrook on a regular basis.

Operated by the DuPage Forest Preserve District since 1956, the center is also a valuable resource for people to learn how to live in harmony with wildlife, offering educational programs for thousands of people, including school and scout groups, teachers, private rehabilitators, and municipalities.


Why does Willowbrook need a new facility? Will the improvements increase rehabilitation capacity?
The existing building is more than 40 years old. Since it was built, standards for wildlife rehabilitation have dramatically changed. Additionally, many of the building's mechanical systems are at the end of their useful lives and need to be replaced to support safe and effective operations for wildlife patients, staff, and volunteers.

The new facility will meet the center's current admissions, rehabilitation, and resident requirements.

Over the years, the area's human population has grown, impacting its wildlife population as well. Willowbrook treats an average of 10,000 sick, injured, and orphaned animals each year. The aging clinic and outdoor rehabilitation area are not adequate for the needs of these wildlife patients.


What will be different after the project is complete?
The clinic will increase efficiencies and ensure each species continues to receive appropriate medical care.

The visitor center will showcase the behind-the-scenes medical and rehabilitation process. Visitors will be able to view animals as they're examined, treated, in surgery, being fed, and rehabilitated behind one-way windows and through video monitors.

Existing nonreleasable resident animals, most of which are geriatric, will be housed in specially designed enclosures appropriate to to their needs to allow them to live out their lives as humanely as possible. Video monitors will showcase select animals as well as animals in the rehabilitation enclosures.

A wildlife garden with songbird habitat and an interpretive trail will allow the public to see wildlife in natural settings through specially designed observation nodes.


What will happen to the resident animals currently on display at Willowbrook?
Willowbrook has a small population of resident animals that cannot be released due to injuries and debilitating conditions. These residents will be housed in specially designed enclosures that are species-appropriate to their needs and will allow them to live out their lives as humanely as possible. Staff will continue to provide enrichment activities and the public will be able to observe them through live camera feeds.


Can I still bring injured and orphaned animals to Willowbrook during construction?
Yes! The project is designed in multiple phases to continue the important work of wildlife rehabilitation uninterrupted throughout construction.


When will the new facility be open to the public?
We expect the clinic and visitor center to open by the middle of 2024. The existing building will come down after that. All work should wrap up by 2025.


Can I still visit the trails at Willowbrook while construction is underway?
The main exhibit trail and parking lot will be closed from late 2022 until summer 2024. It will be a construction zone as we remove existing enclosures and build the new facility. Visitors will be able to reach the looped trail on the east side of Glen Crest Creek from Milton Avenue, but there may be periodic closures as we work on the trail, construct wildlife observation areas, and restore the surrounding habitats.


How much will the project cost and how will it be funded? Will it increase my property taxes?
On April 19, 2022, the Forest Preserve District board of commissioners will vote on a $25.5 million guaranteed maximum-price contract with Wight & Company to design and construct the new facility.

In November 2021, the Forest Preserve District board of commissioners approved issuing general obligation limited-tax bonds to support District master plan projects. Property taxes will not increase as a result of these improvements. 

Approximately $22 million from the bond sale will be dedicated to Willowbrook. The District is also pursuing an additional $3.5 million in grant funding for the project.

As of April 2022, the District has also secured $3.7 million in private donations to support the project. The Friends of the Forest Preserve District continues to develop donor opportunities for this critically important center. 

All of Willowbrook’s operating expenses are funded by the Forest Preserve District, grants and private donations. The center does not receive state or federal funding.


I hear the center is being designed to be "net-zero." What does that mean?
Net-zero means the energy produced from renewable resources exceeds the energy consumed by a building.

The new facility will have energy-efficient features throughout, but two key elements will be its ground- and roof-mounted solar panels, which will convert the sun's energy into electricity, and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

A geothermal system circulates liquid through underground pipes and uses the natural ground temperature to heat and cool. In winter, the system extracts heat from the liquid and distributes it into the building. In summer, it removes heat from the building and carries it into the ground to cool.


Who is doing the work?
The Forest Preserve District's planning department and Willowbrook Wildlife Center staff are collaborating with Wight & Company and Wight Construction Services. Wight & Company has worked with District staff since early 2021 to identify responsible solutions to the changing needs of animal rehabilitation and care. 

The multidisciplinary team at Wight & Company worked with the District to develop the previous master plan for Willowbrook in 2011.

For more information about the company visit wightco.com.


Why does Willowbrook treat wildlife from outside of DuPage County?
Native animals have ranges that overlap human-imposed boundaries. Migratory birds are a great example. Willowbrook Wildlife Center champions healthy interconnected ecosystems to foster and promote safe and sustainable communities for all living things in DuPage County and surrounding communities.


How can I support Willowbrook Wildlife Center?
To learn how to support the project contact Jeannine Kannegiesser, District chief partnership and philanthropy officer and executive director of the Friends of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.


Who can I contact if I have more questions about the project?
Contact Anamari Dorgan, director of Community Engagement Services, at 630-462-5654 or adorgan@dupageforest.org.




The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County offers scores of nature-related programs and activities for grownups, kids, families and groups year-round. Click below to register for programs, reserve shelters and campsites or purchase permits, and we'll see you soon!
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