Before Naperville entertains developer proposals to revitalize the area around the 5th Avenue Metra station north of downtown, officials are seeking ideas from students.
Roughly 45 high schoolers in architecture classes at Naperville North and Naperville Central will compete in teams to come up with the best redevelopment plan for roughly 8 acres of city-owned property near the train station and 5th Avenue Station office and apartment building.
Naperville North architecture teacher Rebecca Diorio said the project gives students a real canvas of their hometown's land and buildings on which to practice the software and design skills they've already learned.
City officials say the partnership with students gives them a fresh perspective.
"What we take from you is ideas of what you see this city looking like," Mayor Steve Chirico told students Friday as they visited the site. "It's always insightful."
Chirico and Naperville business owner Ray Kinney advised the students not to be constrained by politics, convention, parking requirements or building height, but to focus on what looks cool in a living, working and entertainment environment their peers would enjoy.
Kinney said he hopes the final projects, set to be presented April 27, will be "big, dense and creative."
Similar projects in past years have drawn innovative designs for the Iroquois Center strip mall on the city's north side and the Naperville Crossings shopping area on the south side from students in Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
"Go big or go home," Kinney advised the future architects as they prepared for a tour of the site. "The developer that ends up doing this may use bits and pieces of all of your ideas."
The site along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks includes the city's rail connection to Chicago, acres of parking for commuters, and 5th Avenue Station, built in the late 1890s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After 22 additions and more than 100 years, the building that formerly held Naperville's largest employer, Kroehler Manufacturing Co., now is home to lawyers and software companies, fitness studios and financial professionals. Some of the offices, such as the space used by cloud computing company Fieldglass, have incorporated the building's past life as a furniture plant into their domains.
Jeff Basso, vice president of information technology for Fieldglass, led students through the office he designed about 15 years ago when the startup, which was bought a year ago by SAP, moved in. There they saw examples of how to incorporate history and character into building materials, layouts, furniture and lighting.
Students won't be proposing any changes to the 5th Avenue Station building itself. But neighbors, including Bill Kreger, owner of Kreger's Brat & Sausage Haus two blocks north, said it's important for students to grasp its background and what's inside before proposing ideas for the types of housing, restaurant, entertainment and business designs to add nearby.
Basso's advice to the students was the type not normally heard in school: "Break all the rules."