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$32 million youth-services campus set for former site of Sears HQ


Updated: April 20, 2013 6:27AM

North Lawndale, a community lagging in significant investment, is slated for a new $32.9 million project on the long vacant former site of the Sears Roebuck & Co. headquarters.

The state’s second-oldest social service organization, the 144-year-old Uhlich Children’s Advantage Network, will break ground in June on a seven-acre campus for its new headquarters and therapeutic youth home, officials said Monday.

“It’s a pretty nice chunk of land,” Tom Vanden Berk, CEO of the network, said of the campus going up in Homan Square, at Fillmore and Independence.

“This has been in the works about four solid years. So it’s like, ‘Wow, it’s actually going to happen,’ ” he said.

The plan includes a 54,500-square-foot, 70-bed youth home for children ages 6 to 18, with a gymnasium and playing fields. A two-story, 31,200-square-foot headquarters with administrative, programming and training space also is planned.

A public-private partnership has raised $10.5 million for the project so far. Funding from the City of Chicago and State of Illinois is expected. The city donated about an acre and a half of land, including part of Fillmore that will run through the new campus. The project is expected to be completed in October 2014.

Also being housed at the site is a new anti-violence collaboration, the Chicagoland Institute for Transforming Youth , a data-based tracking and mentoring program for at-risk kids citywide. It will be run by a partnership of community organizations.

The campus is designed by the city’s largest black-owned architect/planning firm, Johnson & Lee, Ltd., partnering with Ohio-based Moody Nolan, the nation’s largest black-owned architecture firm. Local general contractors Ujamaa Construction, Inc. — a black-owned firm — partnered with Gilbane Building Co., will build it. And Searl Lamaster Howe Architects, a woman-owned firm, is the interior designer.

“We were committed to maximizing minority and women business enterprise participation,” said Board Chair Judith C. Rice, senior vice president at Chicago’s BMO Harris Bank and former city treasurer under Mayor Daley.

The campus is expected to create 450 construction jobs, and once built, an additional 90 permanent jobs for adults and 900 supportive jobs for youths.

About 10 percent of the network’s clients come from the North Lawndale community, notorious for one of the nation’s highest poverty and unemployment rates.

Founded in 1869, the network serves about 13,500 clients annually with residential placement for wards of the state and counseling, schooling and support programs for at-risk families.

Vanden Berk, whose son, a 15-year-old Evanston Township High School honor student, was murdered as a bystander in a gang shooting on April 25, 1992, views violence personally.

“The CITY initiative is really about reaching kids where they are,” he said. “How many of these youth have seen loved ones shot and killed, been exposed to all kinds of violence — physical, sexual, domestic? It causes a tremendous amount of trauma on these kids, and it changes them. We need to do more at the front end of the system. That’s the dream.”

Few agencies have been around as long. Only the Chicago Child Care Society, founded in 1949, is older. The 122-year-old Hull House closed its doors last year for lack of funds.

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