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Backhoes and earth movers already dug most of the foundation trenches and ripped the old entrance and balcony from the Beaver Meadow Nature Center offices prior to the "official groundbreaking" at 1 p.m. today.

Monday, concrete will be poured and by next spring, the nature center's new headquarters will be three times as large as what has served for years.

"It's an amazing effort by our volunteers" said Bill McKeever, the Buffalo Audubon Society's new executive director.

"Dan and Jane Cole headed a group who managed to get more than $600,000 donated or pledged before I even came aboard a few months ago."

McKeever, an accomplished fund-raiser and former environmental educator, came to the local Audubon chapter after internal strife that saw some old guard members upset about the North Java nature center's appearance of being the "tail wagging the dog."

That rift was healed earlier this year, and the society threw its weight behind improving and expanding the nature center as its most visible entity, according to some Audubon board members.

"Work began on Sept. 10, and I expect the general contractors, Ken and Allen Nigro's NDC Realty, to have the building finished in March," said architect Leslie J. Halfpenny.

"We tore out the steps and will bring the front of the building forward by extending the roof so the entrance is on the ground level at the right, as you look at the rendering," he said. "The right-hand third is a bit larger than the original structure, which stays in place; the two-thirds to the left of that is all new.

The frame building will look like the old headquarters, with its board-and-batten siding, the architect said, "just bigger and better laid out."

As in the original, the slope behind the building means it will be two stories tall, with entry from both levels.

"We're going from 2,800 square feet to 8,800 square feet," McKeever said, "triple the size -- and we really need it. More classrooms, a larger gift shop, office space we don't really have now and a really large gathering space for special programs will all be included."

The society only has enough money now to complete the shell, he said, something the 125 people expected at the groundbreaking know very well.

"We are going to have to raise at least another $500,000 to furnish and equip the new building and establish a small endowment for its operation," McKeever said.

He believes that will occur by the time the shell is completed.

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