GIBBON, Neb.— The Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary has outgrown its space.

The center near Gibbon was built in 2003 and is meant to handle 5,000 people. That was before it became the sandhill crane capital of the world.

Over a period of six weeks this year, 37,000 people came through the center's doors.

Director Bill Taddicken said an expansion project has been in the making since 2015.

“I’m really excited about all of this because it’s been a long time planning for this construction and this expansion," Taddicken said. "I think it’s just going to benefit everybody involved and the birds. It’s part of our 50-year vision for the Platte River and this expansion is one of the very first steps.”

The center broke ground on the $12.5 million project last week and crews are expected to start construction in the next couple of weeks. 

Taddicken said the space was needed. 

“We’ve outgrown this building considerably and we needed more space for education so we can continue to do school groups and other education - children, and camps and things like that, as well as just space for visitors every spring," Taddicken said.

The plans for expansion include additions to the west and east wings of the visitor center, a community events space, a parking lot expansion, changes to the trails to make them ADA accessible, a conference room, and an education room.

Taddicken said the project will benefit the local economy. 

“So already crane season brings probably close to $20 million into the local economy every year," Taddicken said. "This will also help grow that and this is a world class migration event and we want to have a world class facility for that. It’ll just make Kearney look even better, and Gibbon look great. Brings more and more people in to spend money.”

So far, they have enough to start construction but are still looking to raise about $1.5 million. 

Sampson Construction is in charge of the project. The plan is for the center to be ready for next crane season.