Friday will be a sweet day for the Wildcat Glades Friends Group — and not just because it’s Valentine’s Day.
The group has collected an estimated $50,000 in donations and grants to start construction of a new education cottage on the former ballfields of Wildcat Park. A groundbreaking ceremony hosted by the group, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and Missouri American Water is slated for 2 p.m. Friday.
Robin Standridge, executive director of Wildcat Glades Friends Group, said the project was launched last spring with a $13,924 grant from the American Water Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by American Water, parent company of Missouri American Water, which serves Joplin.
“We were one of 11 grants that were awarded nationwide, and it was for an education cottage to go on the property of the former ballfields,” she said. “That was the beginning. Originally, we thought we could put up a movable structure, and the further we got into the process, we realized that was no longer a feasible idea. We moved on, and we talked with Joplin parks and rec. Of course, they were in this project from the beginning, and it’s just blossomed from there.”
Paul Bloomberg, director of the Joplin parks and recreation department, could not be reached for comment.
The Missouri Department of Conservation took over the Wildcat Glades nature center at the park in 2018 and now operates its own programs at the Shoal Creek Conservation Education Center.
The Wildcat Glades Friends Group, which operates independently from MDC, has been offering youth programs and classes at the Empire Market, the conservation center and the Wildcat Park pavilion.
Standridge said the cottage will give the group its own indoor space for classes and allow additional room for growth. The cottage will be an 864-square-foot classroom outfitted with solar panels and two porches.
“The reason behind this project is so that we can have education classes when it’s not possible to have them at the MDC facility or the Empire Market,” she said. “The other thing is we want to have some classes that the Missouri Department of Conservation doesn’t feel like fit in with their mission, so this extra room will allow us to do yoga in nature again.”
Several partners have contributed to the project, including $10,000 from anonymous donors and monetary and in-kind contributions from Orbis, Goins Enterprises, Olsson Engineering, Corner Greer & Associates, ATC and Fagan Electric.
“What started out as a very humble project became a much larger project,” Standridge said.
The group still hopes for another $10,000 to $15,000 to finish the cottage and outfit it with new technology. Standridge said they’d like to include built-in features like Wi-Fi and have equipment like projectors.
“We still are looking for a little bit of funding to complete the project,” she said. “We have enough money to get it put together, but of course, we’d like some finishing touches. We’d like to add porches and things like that. We’re really excited to have room where we can stretch out and start having birthday parties again where we bring in animals.”
In the future, the goal is to offer a variety of programs including art classes and allow the grounds to be a meeting place for the community. MDC will also be able to use the cottage if its building is full.