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After ten years of dispute, the National Botanic Garden in Meise is ready for a revamp. But years of neglect have taken their toll and the price tag of the renovation will be high. Each winter it is a great struggle to protect the 18 000 plant species from the elements, as the hothouses are not protected by double-glazing and their support structure needs to be shorred up to keep the hothouses from falling apart altogether. Keeping warm during the cold seasons is another challenge. “It costs about 600 000 euros each year.” says director Steven Dessein. The National Garden has been struggling to obtain funds for these necessary renovations for years, but quarreling between the Flemings and French-speakers has put this urgent work on hold for the past decade. As far back as 2001 the Lambermont agreement of the fifth round of state reform stipulated that the Garden would be devolved to the Flemish Region. A dispute about the linguistic requirements which had to determine the ratio of Dutch- and French-speaking employees took the upper hand and the garden was left to deteriorate, whereas the agreement was reported for years until now, which resulted in further disrepair. According to Gert Ausloos, head of the education and PR service of the Botanic Garden, it will take at least ten million euros to strengthen the infrastructure to an agreeable level. He further believes that only two options remain: aborting the entire project or investing. It is not only the hothouses that need serious attention. Some of the offices are run down, a stone stairway is crumbling and a ‘Christmas stable construction’ at the entrance serves to protect visitors against falling fragments. And yet the garden still attracts more than 100 000 visitors each year. Obviously a proper renovation could see this number double as visitors come to admire the wealth of attractions in the garden. Moreover the garden offers scientific value with the conservation of rare species. It seems the 9 million euros the garden currently receives each year is used mostly for staff, maintenance and heating expenses. For proper infrastructural renovations much more will be needed. Now that agreement has finally been reached, Dessein hopes a solution is on the way.
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