A wildlife center that takes in and cares for orphaned animals will soon be expanding.
Work will start this fall on the Willowbrook Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Glen Ellyn, part of a two-phase project that is expected to add between $17 million and $21 million in improvements to the facility operated by the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
Village trustees unanimously approved the special-use permit and variations for the first phase on Monday night for Willowbrook, which spans 40 acres on the east side of Park Boulevard, between Buena Vista Drive and Glen Valley Road.
"We're really fortunate here in Glen Ellyn to have this facility within our borders," said Staci Hulseberg, village director of planning and development. "It's very unique to the state and the nation."
Willowbrook began its operations in 1956. It provides care and treatment for injured and orphaned wildlife and serves as an education center. In 2012, about 120,000 visitors came through the facility, which offers an outdoor trail, indoor exhibits that house animals with permanent disabilities, a classroom and discovery area, and a species recovery program.
In 2012, Willowbrook admitted 8,500 birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians, said Tim Whelan, commissioner of DuPage Forest Preserve District 4. This year alone, the center has accepted more than 1,000 injured birds from the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors, a volunteer group that patrols the sidewalks under Chicago's skyscrapers during migrations.
The first phase of the project will include expansion of the service building and parking lot, which will go from 53 parking spaces to 99. Forest district officials will have to come back to Glen Ellyn trustees for approval of the second phase, which will include work on the main building and animal exhibits. When that happens depends on funding, which will likely be within the next 5 to 10 years.
When it's completed, officials expect a bigger and improved building and parking lot, new animal exhibits and enclosures, along with a restored wetlands along Glen Crest Creek. The improvements are expected to also allow the preserve's rainwater runoff to be conserved for re-use and education purposes.
The project is part of the center's master plan, approved in 2011. It was the first in nearly two decades. It may take years before the entire master plan is completed, officials said.
"This plan isn't just about expanding room or parking spaces or exhibit spaces," Whelan told the board. "It goes beyond that. It's a plan to ensure Willowbrook remains a resource center for which all of DuPage County can be proud."