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New home in the works for Russian River education

  • Water Education Program Specialist Ryan Pedrotti of the Sonoma County Water Agency closes the window blinds at the Water Education Program's Russian River Field Study Site in Forestville, Calif., on January 21, 2014. The Sonoma County Water Agency seeks approval for plans to build a new education facility and replace the aging temporary building where several thousand fifth-graders learn about the water system each year. (Alvin Jornada / The Press Democrat)

Thousands of schoolkids each year who study the Russian River watershed and the system through which it provides drinking water to North Bay residents will soon be free of the shabby portable building in Forestville that for more than a decade has served as a classroom and field-study lab.

Final approvals are in the works for a $2 million facility planned near Wohler Bridge that will provide a safer, sturdier and more welcoming place to learn about a resource so necessary to life, officials said.

No more razor wire visible out the window at the current, industrial-looking site across the river near two water collection wells. No more drooping ceiling tiles, rainwater leaks and porta-potties for visiting fifth-graders to worry about.

Sonoma County Water Agency's Water Education Program

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"We're really excited about the new facility, and about the program," said Cary Olin, water education manager for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Officials hope to break ground late this summer and have the new building and surrounding site ready for use by the 2015-16 school year, agency engineer Brian Paulson said.

The project is to be located on the site of a onetime rock quarry near the corner of Westside and Wohler roads, adjacent to the Maxwell Grove boat ramp operated by Sonoma County Regional Parks.

It includes two single-story buildings connected by a covered walkway and surrounded by functional landscaping like a bio swale to catch and filter runoff and a native garden designed to attract beneficial insects.

Pathways through the redwood grove lead down to the riverbank, where students will collect water samples to test for pH levels and examine under microscopes for resident invertebrate species.

Plans include a small outdoor amphitheater to be built at the base of a tall, vertical rock road left over from the quarry days.

The new facility will be used for occasional community meetings and teacher trainings, and as a gathering spot for regular public water system tours provided by the water agency. But it will serve primarily in the popular Field Study Program through which the agency hosted 73fifth-grade classes, or about 2,100 students, from 35 schools during the 2012-13 school year, Olin said.


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