Opened in 2010, the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center is located within Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. (Photo by Jack McGee)

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In need of office space, the Springfield-Greene County Park Board is revisiting the role of the University of Missouri Extension at the Botanical Center, to the surprise of MU Extension staff and the Park Board itself.

Horticulture specialist Kelly McGowan was “blindsided” by Parks staff’s proposal in a June 13 meeting with the department’s interim director and legal counsel, according to community development specialist David Burton, who addressed the Park Board the following morning.

The Park Board was also out of the loop on the department’s plans to revisit its agreement with the MU Extension. Board members Royce Reding and Curtis Jared questioned Springfield-Greene County Parks administration over the Thursday meeting, and reassured Burton that no decisions will be made until after the board has had a chance to review and discuss any changes to the partnership between the two entities.

“We need to sit there and be thankful for the partnerships we have,” Jared said. “Hitting people at the last minute and making people think they're going to lose their offices is not right. I just want to make that statement because this should not happen this way.”

History of the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center

Previously located in a county-owned facility, the Greene County University of Missouri Extension Offices moved into the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center after the facility opened in 2010. (Photo by Jack McGee)

In addition to the MU Extension space, the Botanical Center houses offices for the Springfield Sister Cities Association, Friends of the Garden, Parks staff and the Master Gardeners of Greene County, which is operated by the MU Extension. 

The 12,700-square foot facility — located within the 113-acre Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park off Scenic Avenue — also features classroom space, public restrooms and a gift shop. The $4.35 million project was funded by Greene County, the county-wide ¼-cent Parks Sales Tax, the city’s ¼-cent Capital Improvement Sales Tax and private donations. Burton estimates that the MU Extension raised about $250,000 for the building, in addition to a donation for the facility’s furnishings. 

The park and Botanical Center is managed and operated by the Park Board, though the property is owned by the City of Springfield.

Previously housed in a Greene County government-owned facility, the MU Extension relocated to the Botanical Center after it opened in 2010. Greene County made a $500,000 contribution for the project intended to secure permanent space for Extension offices, according to Burton. MU Extension does not pay rent to the Park Board, per the original agreement.

Master Gardeners provide ‘real value’ to Botanical Gardens

In addition to fundraising, MU Extension also helps coordinate thousands of volunteer hours through the Master Gardeners program. Burton said the program’s 350 active members volunteered for a total of 12,000 hours in 2023, primarily at the Springfield Botanical Gardens. The park is also maintained by Parks staff and volunteers with Friends of the Garden and other partner groups.

MU Extension also manages the 4-H Youth Development program with the Greene County Juvenile Office and the Master Naturalist program in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation, among other educational programming. 

Extension’s operations are largely funded by Greene County at $65,000 a year, with the salaries of its six employees paid by the University of Missouri. As required by state law, MU Extension offices are overseen by Extension councils comprised of elected and appointed citizens. 

Extension specialist, parks director dispute license agreement's relevance

David Burton, community development specialist with the Greene County University of Missouri Extension. (Photo by Jack McGee)

Burton prefaced his appeal to the Park Board by emphasizing the collaboration and partnerships in Springfield and Greene County, calling the Botanical Center an “example of that, from the very beginning.”

“We hear that over and over and over, that's what makes Greene County unique,” Burton said. “When we work together and we don't worry about who gets credit, we can do great things.”

Jim Fisher, interim director of parks and recreation, said the discussions are “very preliminary,” but that the Park Board is “way past taking another look at” the memorandum of understanding between MU Extension and the Park Board, which expired in 2012. The original agreement was signed in the fall of 2010.

Jenny Fillmer Edwards, public information administrator for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, said that Parks administration initiated the meeting with staffers from MU Extension to discuss the expired agreement and the number of offices assigned to Extension, as the Parks staff needs additional office space.

Jim Fisher (Photo by City of Springfield)
Jim Fisher, interim director of Parks for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board. (Photo by City of Springfield)

“They have office space, we need some office space,” Fisher said at the June 14 Park Board meeting. “Just kind of seeing how we can maximize the efficiency of space utilization out at the Botanical Center — nothing more than that. But we don't have an agreement that’s current, so the first step to getting that fixed is to get parties together and discuss ‘Here's what we had, here's what we probably ought to work towards.’”

Burton has repeatedly communicated with Parks staff since 2012 about getting an updated MOU, including in 2019 after the MU Extension gave up office space for the Springfield Sister Cities Association.

“Now the attorney can shake her head no, and we can talk about that. I'd love to have that conversation,” Burton said of the county's intent on providing a permanent home for the MU Extension. “Because to say that the agreement was done in 2012 is not accurate.”

Extension ‘surprised’ by Parks administration’s approach

The Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, owned by the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, houses offices for the Greene County University of Missouri Extension, Springfield Sister Cities Association and the Friends of the Garden. (Photo by Jack McGee)

While open to revising the agreement, Burton felt the Park Board staff’s approach and communication “came off a little different” than conversations have in the past, particularly with regard to their reference to a 60-day notice to vacate provision in the old agreement “more than once” in the June 13 meeting with Kelly McGowan.

Under the license agreement between the Park Board and MU Extension, either party can terminate the agreement with a 60-day written notice without cause.

“They came to us with ‘This is a partnership, you have value, how do we make this work? What’s the give and take to make it work?’” Burton said of previous discussions with the Park Board. “Not ‘We have an old MOU, we could kick you out.’ One of those approaches says there's value in the partnership. The other approach, not so much.”

Jared said he was also “caught off guard” by the Parks administration’s approach, and emphasized the need to “be thankful for the partnerships we have.”

Fisher said Parks staff never mentioned a timeline for MU Extension staff to vacate any part of the Botanical Center, and that a new agreement would be subject to board approval.

Despite Extension staff’s concern over the Park Board’s unexpected reconsideration of their agreement, Burton emphasized that they valued their relationship with the Park Board and hope they can maintain the partnership.

Ron Schneider, who was named the Park Board’s new director in late May, will begin work on July 8. Fisher has served in an interim capacity following former director Bob Belote’s retirement in January.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the government affairs reporter at the Hauxeda. He previously covered politics and business for the Daily Citizen. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at or (417) 837-3663. More by Jack McGee