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Hail shatters historic showrooms at Garfield Park Conservatory

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Updated: October 22, 2011 12:15AM

The Garfield Park Conservatory was shuttered after a hail storm Thursday night shattered numerous glass panes in three showrooms and nine productions rooms, showering plants with glass in unprecedented damage for the historic building, according to the Chicago Park District.

“There’s hanging glass, too, so the public can’t walk through it,” said Zvezdana Kubat, a park district spokeswoman.

Right now, officials are trying to get a cost for the repairs and are assessing what its insurance will cover to fix the West Side conservatory at 300 N. Central Park.

“We’re a place dedicated to creating a space for people and nature, and here nature created this disaster,” said director of conservatories Mary Eysenbach said. “So it’s a little ironic, which might be why we take it in stride. We’re pretty accepting of nature’s interesting ways.”

“This is [damage] at a level we’re not used to,” Eysenbach said. “But we’ll take care of it piece by piece.”

Until it’s worked out, the conservatory will be closed indefinitely.

As for the hundreds of plants housed there, they’re safe.

“With the weather expected to be kind of tropical, I think the Desert Room and the Fern House should be fine,” Kubat said.

Kubat said the park district will accommodate all rentals for weddings and other celebrations, holding events in rooms that weren’t affected by the storm. Two weddings are scheduled for the weekend, a park employee said.

Security guards who staff the conservatory 24/7 noticed the damage immediately Thursday night. By Friday morning, the decision was made to shut down as crews scrambled to clean up glass, Eysenbach said.

In the Fern Room, the show house sustained about 60 percent breakage, and in the Desert House, 30 percent of the glass was shattered, she said.

In nine production homes, which are open only to employees to care for flegdling plants, 60 percent of the glass was broken as hail pelted the ceiling, Eysenbach said.

It’s the most damage the conservatory has ever seen, Eysenbach said. “Thankfully, it happened when no public was here and employees were not in those rooms,” she said.

The “supercell” storm swept through the metro area Thursday evening and hit Chicago shortly after 9 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

The hail damaged at least 130 police cars, ranging from dings to broken windshields to smashed rooftop lights. At least 23 Chicago Police squad cars parked in the West Side Ogden District and a dozen more in the neighboring Harrison District were damaged, police News Affairs Officer John Mirabelli said.

Hail stones up to the size of baseballs were spotted near 26th Street and Kedzie Avenue in Chicago during the height of the storm, according to the weather service. Two-inch hail was spotted in the Logan Square neighborhood on the Northwest Side, while neighborhoods and suburbs throughout the metro area saw hail measuring more than an inch in diameter.

Contributing: Frank Main

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