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Jamaica Bay gets $3.3M for visitors’ center

The entrance to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on Crossbay Boulevard south of Howard Beach will get a face-lift this spring, thanks to an infusion of $3.3 million in federal funds for a new visitors contact station in the national recreation area.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) said he secured the federal money that will enable the new center to be built and the current maintenance facility to be shifted to another building.

"The Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is a wonderful resource for harried city dwellers, a place to experience an extraordinary diversity of fish, fowl, flora and fauna," Weiner said. "Anything that makes it easier for visitors to appreciate the natural wonders is a good thing."

Jamaica Bay guardian Don Riepe said the new facility will include a conference room, a programming and exhibit area, bathrooms and a large lobby where large groups can meet. He said there will also be new office space for staff.

"It's a step-up. The building there now is an old building and it really doesn't serve as good a function as it should," he said. Riepe pointed out that the new structure is "going to be using pretty much the existing footprint of what's there."

Riepe said the new station will be constructed incorporating environmentally sound architecture. He said the plans call for heating and cooling systems that integrate the natural climate to conserve electricity and limit the facility's dependence on outside sources of energy.

There will also be a new reference library that will hold an expanded collection at the wildlife refuge.

Riepe said the old facility lacks adequate bathrooms and is too crowded to accommodate large groups.

He said the new station will use the same on-site parking lot and limit its encroachment on the surrounding environment.

Weiner said construction on the project will be completed by 2005. He said he has continued to try and get federal funds for the national recreation area because it is the only federally managed site in his 9th Congressional District.

"All in all, I think it will be putting a nicer face on the park," Riepe said.

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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