Revamp Report

The Houston Arboretum's Nature Center Upgrades Are on the Way

The Nature Center's first revamp since the '90s has us excited.

By Gwendolyn Knapp August 26, 2019

The Houston Arboretum Nature Center is being revamped.

You love the Houston Arboretum & Nature Center’s new ravine trail, field centers, arborgator, and Woodway Entrance, but wait, there's more exciting new stuff on the way. In keeping with its master plan to both restore its resilient and sustainable native ecosystems and to expand its educational reach, the Arboretum has now turned its attention solely to upgrading its Nature Center by 2020. Renovations are underway.

The two phases of the building’s overhaul will be complete by early next year. Part of it will remain open to offer full fall programming, but the Discovery Room will be closed until next year. Here’s what to expect.

Phase 1 

Set to be complete in November 2019, the first phase will renovate and expand the original 4,000-square-foot Nature Center, first built in 1967 and last renovated in the 1990s.

This portion—home to offices, a staff workroom and the old Discovery Room—will become a new Nature Shop and two new classrooms. The main entrance will be moved back to its original 1967 location, on the western front of the building, and outdoor bathrooms will get some much-needed upgrades.

During phase 1, visitors will still enter the Nature Center at its current main entrance. A welcome kiosk with a limited number of items for sale is open, and building hours will continue to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Public restrooms and water fountains will only be available during those hours, though the Arboretum itself stays open from 7 a.m. to dusk. 

Phase 2

Slated from November until early 2020, this overhaul focuses on the building’s newer portion, which was added in the '90s. The remodel includes needed updates to classrooms, but also includes the construction of a brand-new outdoor classroom and an entirely new Discovery Room.

Expect the new Discovery Room to house interactive exhibits and old favorites alike, such as wetland wildlife in an aquarium, a re-imagined version of the room’s iconic tree, a “Prairie Underground” for kids to crawl through, and more.

A new playscape for kids is forthcoming in 2020.

More Master Plan Progress

Work on an innovative nature playscape (aka a really cool playground) and a courtyard connecting the Nature Center and Administration building is expected to begin in early 2020. Meanwhile, the Arboretum staff is already enjoying new workspace in the recently opened Administration Building, designed by Lake | Flato Architects to have a low profile and minimal impact right down to the bird-friendly glass (designed to help birds avoid window collisions). 

The master plan is also being implemented by Forney Construction, Design Workshop, Main Street Design, Garza Site Development, Reed Hilderbrand and Sparq1200. 

Fall Programming is On

Again, construction will not be stopping the great fall programming in the months ahead. While we're rather taken with pharamacist Beau Harger’s upcoming medicinal plants class, there's a wealth of great programs to choose from, including the Fall Plant Sale, ArBOOretum, and even two free weekly events: Roving Naturalists, on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., which teaches fun facts about flora and fauna around the Nature Center, and Guided Nature Hikes on Saturdays from 10 to 11 a.m. with an insider’s view of the Arboretum (stroller-friendly hikes are available; register here).

Interested in volunteering? To become a docent naturalist, attend the September 4 open house from 10 a.m. to noon. To become a general volunteer, head to the September 7 open house from 10 a.m. to noon.

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