UPTOWN — The historic Clarendon Community Center is getting a complete overhaul. What that overhaul will look like is still up in the air, but the Chicago Park District unveiled four possible options at a community meeting Monday.
After an earlier community meeting in September, where initial proposals were rolled out to the public, the Chicago Park District came back with four preliminary options for a rebuild.
Ald. James Cappleman (46th) was in attendance and helped facilitate the meeting.
“You made your voices heard in September, and that’s a good thing,” he said.
The first two options include keeping the current Clarendon Community Center at 4501 N Clarendon Ave., but remodeling it. The first option includes a limited remodel for an estimated cost of $22 million, while the second option includes a full remodel and addition for an estimated cost of $44 million.
The second two options both include new buildings altogether, with one option remaining at the current site and the other option to build at an adjacent site on the park property. Both options had an estimated cost of $22 million.
Many residents questioned the park district’s assessment of $44 million for a full remodel and addition, when the cost of a brand-new building was assessed at $22 million.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said it was “ironic” that the park district was even considering a new building after hearing public comment in September. After the last meeting, the park district found that over two-thirds of the community wanted a building remodel and not an entirely new building.
“It’s funny that a renovation of a building that already exists would cost twice as much as a complete reconstruction,” he said.
But Heather Gleason, the park district’s representative at the meeting, defended the estimates, mentioning ADA accessibility and bringing old buildings up to modern code as the most expensive parts of a remodel.
“It’s actually not that unusual for the renovation of a building to be more expensive than a new building,” she said.
Indeed, the Clarendon Community Center is steeped in history. The original building had dramatic towers and was originally built as a beach pavilion for one of the first public beaches in Chicago. The architects commissioned by the park district said they hoped to pay homage to the original architecture in a way that reflects back to the building’s history.
Preservation Chicago has named the Clarendon Community Center on its list of most endangered buildings.
One of the biggest challenges for a new community center — as with most park district projects — is fundraising. Although there will be TIF money for the project from the Clarendon/Montrose TIF, it will only cover about $4.6 million of the project.
Gleason, from the park district, said that based on past projects of this size and scope, between $18 million and $22 million would be a reasonable fundraising goal. Although the park district estimates that the fundraising process could take 7-10 years, that is not a hard and fast timeline, according to Gleason.
Gleason said angel investors can speed the entire process up, and the park district looks at every available option for fundraising. She mentioned private investors and state and federal grants as possible options to raise capital.
While many were displeased with the park districts cost estimate for a full remodel option, most echoed gratitude at the park district’s attempts to incorporate public comment into the new designs.
“We’re not there yet, but we are closer,” said one resident.
Another major concern was the preservation of the Garfield Clarendon Model Railroad Club. The club maintains the largest model railroad set in Chicago. Built in 1974, the railroad is comprised of over 1,500 feet of handmade track.
Members of the group wore green club T-shirts and spoke about their hopes to salvage their club and to be incorporated into the new building or remodel.
“They are part of the heart and soul of why this park is so successful,” said Clarendon Park Advisory Council President Katherine Boyda. “They are the heartbeat.”
The park district took public comment and comment cards. They hope to reconsider their four preliminary proposals after hearing from the community Monday. Gleason said that after the next community meeting they can hopefully decide on a rebuild option and begin to move forward.