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Rain Forest Official Leaves Job

Stilwill to Serve as Consultant for Now

Zack Kucharski

The Gazette

January 12, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by The Gazette, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of The Gazette.]

    CORALVILLE — Former Iowa Department of Education Director Ted Stilwill has left his full-time position as director of learning for the proposed indoor rain forest in Iowa and instead will work as a consultant to the project on an as-needed basis.

    Stilwill hopes to rejoin the project after a site for the long-promis e d $180 million world-class tourist destination once slated for Coralville is chosen and design work advances, he told The Gaz e t t e o n Wednesday.

    ‘‘I’m just not comfortable being on a payroll if I’m not pulling my full weight as part of that,’’ Stilwill said of his Jan. 1 job change. ‘‘It’s not a problem for me to pick up some other things for a while.’’

    Educational concepts for the project have moved forward, but Stilwill said much of the remaining details depend on the site chosen for the project and its design.

    ‘‘There’s not much point in my going to school districts and working out post-secondary courses or too much along the lines of science education initiatives until we can target a location and an opening date,’’ said Stilwill, who joined the project in September 2004 at an annual salary of $140,000.

    Stilwill’s departure from a full-time position is expected to help the cash-strapped project, which is relying heavily on financing from Des Moines businessman and project founder Ted Townsend. The project is restricted from spending any more of a $50 million federal grant until rain forest officials raise $50 million in non-federal funds.

    David Oman, executive director of The Environmental Project, the group proposing the indoor rain forest, was in Brazil and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

    Rain forest officials said last month they would look to other Iowa towns after failing to reach an agreement on a 22-acre site in Coralville.

    While Coralville remains a possible site for the rain forest, project officials are in discussions with other communities — including Des Moines, Dubuque, Riverside, Grinnell and Tiffin — about locating there. A final site selection is expected in March.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the project’s future, Stilwill said he remains a vocal project supporter. ‘‘I really believe in the project,’’ said Stilwill.