Bids for Anne Demarais Nature Center improvements come in too high

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The Lawrence Township Council has rejected bids for improvements to the Anne Demarais Nature Center at 481 Drexel Ave., formerly known as the Lawrence Nature Center.

The two bids for the project exceeded the municipal engineer’s estimate for the work. The lowest responsible bid came in at $300,368 submitted by TC Landscape Construction Group.

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The project calls for creating a paved driveway entrance and additional parking spaces at the nature center. The existing brick patio would be removed. Brick pavers would be installed in their place.

A masonry seating wall, an accessible ramp to the rear deck, and handrails and guiderails are also part of the proposed site improvements.

Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski said at a June meeting that the project would be put out for bid again.

The Anne Demarais Nature Center sits on 45 acres of preserved land at the end of Drexel Avenue in the southern part of Lawrence Township. There are walking trails, a stream, a forest and a meadow. It is anchored by the community nature center building.

Lawrence Township purchased 37 acres of land at the end of Drexel Avenue in 1998 for open space preservation. Known as the Drexel Woods, it was one of the last remaining wooded parcels in southern Lawrence Township and had been slated for residential development.

A short time later, Lawrence Township purchased a brick ranch house – known informally as the Rinck House, after the couple who built it – next to the Drexel Woods. The house became the centerpiece and headquarters of the Lawrence Nature Center.

The Rinck House was built by Carl and Lucille Rinck on nine acres of land next to the Drexel Woods in 1941, township officials said. Rinck worked for the Trenton Pottery, and the couple used recycled bricks from the pottery to build the house.

Lucille Rinck continued to live in the house after her husband died. She invited children to explore the meadow and learn about the birds and other wildlife. Lawrence Township bought the house and nine acres after her death.

The Lawrence Nature Center was renamed in honor of Anne Demarais in 2023. She is a former president of the Friends of the Lawrence Nature Center. She was instrumental in open space preservation efforts and trail creation, including the 22-mile-long Lawrence Hopewell Trail that links Lawrence and Hopewell townships.

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