Carol Stream residents visited the Aldrin Community Center on Sunday to say goodbye one final time before the building is "retired" after more than 40 years of service.
The center, which the Carol Stream Park District opened in 1970, will be demolished later this year to make way for two water reservoirs and a pumping station designed to help the flood-prone community.
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Many current and former park district leaders who attended Sunday's "retirement party" said the Aldrin Center, in its heyday, was a pioneering facility and a beloved gathering place. They also said the aging building had become too expensive to maintain.
"This is a 1970s building, and there's only so much maintenance you can do before you say it's time for something new," former park board Commissioner Steve Ravanesi said. "This was a great facility, but it has seen its day."
Sunday's party included memorabilia from the Aldrin Center's past, divided into separate rooms by decade. Some wrote goodbye messages on one of the cinder-block walls. Others shared memories about the building and caught up with old friends.
"This has been a day of wonderful memories for me," said Barbara O'Rahilly, the park district's executive director from 1971 to 1994. "I've gotten a chance to talk to people I haven't seen in some time."
Demolition of the Aldrin Center is expected to take place this spring -- one of many changes under way in the park district. As part of a $37 million upgrade plan approved by voters in 2010, the park district is building a new 91,000-square-foot rec center near the intersection of Lies Road and Gary Avenue. That facility will include an indoor pool, basketball courts, a fitness center and other amenities. It is tentatively expected to open in 2013.
The upgrades also include the creation of a new dog park (which opened in October) and various improvements to existing parks.
"When the Aldrin Center was built, it was one of the first recreation centers in the area," park district Executive Director Arnie Biondo said. "Other park districts came here to see how Carol Stream did it. I think that's going to be true of everything we're doing in 2012, also."
As excited as many said they were about the park district's new projects, some found it difficult to say goodbye to the Aldrin building.
"It's sad," said Jan Smith, former longtime horticulturist for the park district, for whom one of the district's parks is named. "I remember what this site was like before -- just a marsh, with a few hills of soil. We were so excited when this center was built. People just loved it, and the location was perfect for people in the older part of town.
"I understand that buildings get old and difficult to maintain, but when you see things in the community just go away, it can be a little hard."