In breaking ground for a Children's Garden, what makes more sense than to have children do the work?

That's what staff at the Quad-City Botanical Center thought.

So, they invited 40 preschoolers from Jordan Catholic School to grab hot pink and lime green shovels to turn a mound of mulch, launching the $1.2 million first phase of the project.

The event Friday morning at the Rock Island center culminated years of work by many and begins construction on what is expected to be a $6 million project overall.

The phase to be built this summer on 2.5 acres immediately west of the center's events canopy will include a child-size version of the Mississippi River, with a meandering shallow stream, interactive spray features, three footbridges, a delta and about 2,700 new plants.

An entry plaza, estimated at more than $100,000, will be sponsored by the Rock Island Rotary as a project celebrating its centennial in 2014. The plaza will be the club's largest project to date, Anne McGlynn, of the Rotary, said in remarks before the ground-breaking.

Money was raised by members with support from Mel McKay, a former club president, through the Mel McKay Foundation.

The plaza will highlight Rotary's theme of "service above self" and incorporate a theme of "fours," including the four seasons, four directions and factors of four.

Future phases of the Children's Garden will include a $2 million education center, storybook landscapes, a Sauk Village, an eagle overlook, an upper Mississippi River forest and a heartland agriculture garden.

Several people at the ground-breaking remarked that the garden will be the latest in a series of improvements in the "gateway" area of Rock Island, just east of the viaduct from Rock Island Arsenal.

What was once a blighted industrial area with polluted soil is now much-changed with the botanical center building itself, opening in 1998, and the rehabilitation of the former Illinois Oil Co. into the Jackson Square apartments.

Hitchcock Design Group of Naperville, Ill., is handling the design work and the Brandt Co. of Milan is the general contractor.