Botanic garden’s pavilion gets big funding boost


The Leichtag Foundation recently pledged $1 million toward an education pavilion at the San Diego Botanic Garden, a big step for the project. It’s also a leap forward for E3, a new education cluster.

The 9,300-square-foot pavilion would feature classrooms, a kitchen, an amphitheater and gathering space for up to 400 visitors. A fundraising campaign kicked off earlier this year.

“We’re that much closer to our goal thanks to the grant,” said Julian Duval, president and CEO of the botanic garden.

Duval said the $1 million grant is also a good example of increasing collaboration between E3, which is made up of the botanic garden, Leichtag Foundation, Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) and other nearby organizations.

E3 formed to nurture a host of education and health initiatives around Quail Gardens Drive and Saxony Road. Members share resources and help each other — financially or otherwise — with projects.

Duval credited the Leichtag Foundation, which purchased the former Ecke Ranch property in 2012, with sparking the partnership.

In return for the grant, E3 members and nonprofits affiliated with Leichtag will rent the pavilion and other spots within the garden at a discounted rate, according to Leichtag CEO Jim Farley.

“There is little venue space in the city for bigger gatherings,” Farley said. “With this in place, the garden will be more accessible for different groups.”

Farley said the discounted rate will be available next year and expire in 15 years. At that point, the grant agreement would be reexamined. He added the agreement could spur more events, but care will be taken not to burden the garden.

“Something like this hasn’t been tried before in the city — it’s experimental,” Farley said. “I think it will mean exciting things.”

Spots for rent in the botanic garden include Ecke Hall and Lawn House Garden, along with the pavilion when it debuts (a date hasn’t been set).

The pavilion calls for both climate-protected tropical plants, as well as innovative engineering.

“Imagine the rich diversity of a tropical forest canopy, with diverse gardens of plants on branches that are hung from the ceiling,” Duval described in a recent newsletter to garden members.

“These plants will either float above a class that is in progress below. Or when there is no special function in the main conservatory room, these floating garden islands, which may be best described as chandeliers of plants, will be lowered to eye level for casual visitors to the pavilion to see up close.”

The pavilion’s kitchen would host catering and cooking classes for the community and students.

Because EUSD’s 10-acre farm is in the works across the street, plans call for students cooking what they’ve grown in the kitchen — another example of E3 collaboration.

Factoring in the grant, the garden has raised $1.7 million for the $4 million pavilion. As part of a grant challenge, if the garden can secure $3 million by December 2015, the Donald C. & Elizabeth M. Dickinson Foundation would contribute the remaining $1 million.

About two months ago, county Supervisor Dave Roberts announced the county is interested in contributing funds toward the project.

However, to do so, the county would have to own the property where the pavilion would be built. So, the county might buy all or a portion of the city’s 4.8-acre portion of the 37-acre garden. A deal could also involve a land swap.

Duval said those talks are still ongoing.

He likened the pavilion to the Hamilton Children’s Garden, which opened several years ago.

“The children’s garden was arguably our biggest project since opening, and we think this one will be very well received too,” Duval said.