CITY KICKSTARTS COMMUNITY FAMILY CENTER EFFORT
A longstanding vision for a centrally-located Community Family Center near downtown Highland Park came a step closer to fruition April 13, when city officials outlined a strategy that would use general obligation bonds to cover nearly one half the costs.
The center, estimated to cost about $15.8 million, would be constructed on the sites of the city-owned Karger Center and the Firehouse Youth Center.
The new facility would house the city's senior and youth services and would bring a number of child- and family-oriented programs and services run by the nonprofit Community Family Center under one roof. The five agencies that fall under the umbrella organization collectively serve about 3,500 participants at scattered sites around Highland Park and Highwood.
The new community center would be located immediately west of the Lake County Health Department's North Shore Health Center, 1840 Green Bay Road. The location would create what proponents are calling a "human services campus" within the central business district.
As proposed, the new community center would be city-owned. Under the tentative financing strategy, the city would pay about $7 million of the costs through general obligation bonds. City officials contend the new borrowing could be structured so as not to result in a tax increase.
The largest user, the nonprofit Community Family Center, would contribute a proportionate share of the costs, which its board expects to raise from private sources. Board President Herbert Wander told city officials the organization plans to hire a professional fundraising firm to conduct its capital campaign.
On the city's end, the new center would replace the current senior center, which provides classes, discussion groups and other activities in a renovated lakefront mansion off Laurel Avenue that dates to 1929.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch noted that while the center serves seniors in beautiful surroundings, it does have limitations.
"The building is not fully handicapped accessible and there is extremely limited parking," she said. "In comparison to other senior centers, it doesn't have the updated facilities and space needs that seniors are looking for today."
All five agencies that fall under the Community Family Center's umbrella would be located within the new facility. Collectively, they have served the Highland Park area for a combined 225 years. They are Family Network; Family Service: Prevention Education and Counseling; Highland Park Community Nursery School and Day Care Center, which is now based at the Karger Center; Highland Park-Highwood Home Child Care Association, and the Tri-Con Child Care Center.
Planners envision the range of services to be offered at the center would include general counseling, family support, social services, prenatal counseling, early childhood education, youth after-school programs and senior services.
Construction on the new facility would not start until at least 2017, and would require various approvals.
The Park District of Highland Park would be asked to donate about 1.3 acres of land toward the project, and the city would contribute the remaining 2.8 acres.
The city first proposed apportioning costs associated with common areas of the building – such as a kitchen and conference room — among users. Under a revised proposal, the city – as the building's owner — would assume the costs associated with the common areas.
Last year, the city's potential partners for the Community Family Center also included Moraine Township and the Northern Suburban Special Education District. Neither organization is part of the current proposal.