Olbrich Gardens-A Crown Jewel of the City-Now Even Better
Community members were invited to a ribbon cutting and open house to celebrate the grand opening of Olbrich Botanical Gardens’ Frautschi Family Learning Center and new production greenhouses on Saturday, October 16. This project was 10 years in the making and took the collective efforts of multiple City departments, in partnership with the nonprofit Olbrich Botanical Society to come to fruition.
I was honored to speak at the ribbon cutting celebration and to say “thank you” to so many who helped make this dream a reality, including everyone at Olbrich, the Parks Department, the Engineering Department, Alders Benford and Foster who share Olbrich between their districts, and also previous City leaders for starting this project. When you have a project that takes 10 years, it crosses multiple administrations and many, many city councils, so I want to acknowledge Mayor Soglin and former Alders Rummel and Ahrens for their work on this as well.
During my remarks I told a story about a moment when I was in my first high school science class and was learning about photosynthesis. I remember looking outside at a maple tree and thinking, “Holy cow. They have been doing this incredibly complex chemical process this whole time and I didn’t know about it.” That was the moment I learned to love plants and I have loved plants my entire life. I studied botany and ecology and actually have a master’s degree in ecology – I thought I was going to be a scientist. (Obviously, that didn’t work out!) However, I treasure my knowledge of science, botany, and ecology and the way it helps me think about the world. I have always loved botanic gardens as a result.
I told this story because it’s those moments, when young people have a chance to learn something about our world – whether it’s about plants, animals, insects, water, the climate, or whatever it might be – those moments can change the trajectory of their lives forever.
It’s so incredibly important that we have places that young people can come and learn about the natural world, and in this case, particularly learn about plants. It’s essential that we have spaces where we can do the educational work that hopefully will not feel like learning or school, but rather just feel like fun, wonder, and amazement, and a chance to be inspired about something. Perhaps it’s a chance for someone to discover an education or career path, or just a lifelong love of plants.
Olbrich’s Frautschi Family Learning Center is the Parks Department’s most sustainable facility. It will use, on average, 67% less energy than a building built to minimum code standards. In 2020, it was awarded LEED Platinum certification from the US Green Building Council. Solar panels on the roof and a cistern that collects water for reuse will help demonstrate the connection between the natural world and sustainable building design.
The learning center will host more than 4,000 K-5 plant science classes and help students make a personal connection to plants. Students in our school district will be able to come and participate for free if they need financial assistance. The new greenhouses will allow Olbrich to grow an additional 10,000 plants that will add to the beauty of the gardens and the community, and I hope to the beauty and richness of all of our lives.
I’m so proud that Madison is home to this world-class garden that’s free and accessible to everyone in our community. Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp calls Olbrich a crown jewel of Madison, and I don’t disagree. I’m so grateful that we were able to finally celebrate these new facilities. I know that this building will inspire young people for generations to come.
Thank you to everyone who had a role in making this possible.