Mundelein's new village hall ready to open

Mundelein Village Administrator John Lobaito is understandably proud of the town's new village hall, which is set to open at noon today after five years of planning and more than a year of construction.

"The building is spectacular," Lobaito wrote in an email. "Its traditional use of materials and design will keep this building attractive over time."

The brick, two-story structure at 300 Plaza Circle - a new road paved specifically for this project just south of Hawley Street - certainly is an improvement over the much-smaller, Alpine-style hall nearby. That building has served as the village's headquarters since 1929, and it shows its age inside and out.

But the $10 million facility's architectural design isn't the only special feature about the new hall. So, too, is the unusual public-private partnership that led to its creation.

Village officials hired a Vernon Hills property-development company called Weston Solutions to oversee construction of the facility. As part of the deal, the company relocated its Lake County office to the village hall's second floor.

Rent from Weston will help offset the cost of construction.

The village is funding the project with cash from savings. But without the Weston agreement, Lobaito said, the facility would not have been built.

"The village would not have moved forward with the project (without Weston)," he said. "Weston's shared vision with the village made them the ideal partner and achieved our principal goal of attracting private investment."

Spencer Eldredge, an associate engineer with Weston who helped direct the project, is enthusiastic about the arrangement with the village and the company's new digs, too.

"Everybody's liking it," Eldredge said. "I think it's going to work out really well for our purposes."

Prime location

Visible from Hawley Street, the 32,000-square-foot building is east of Seymour Avenue and just north of the village's Metra train station, not far from the Hawley Commons shopping center.

The village gets about 15,000 square feet of space on the first floor, while Weston has the entire second floor.

Village leaders have been talking about building a new village hall since at least the 1990s. The old building isn't easily accessible for workers or visitors with disabilities, and some offices - former closets, really - are uncomfortably small.

The bathrooms, in the words of veteran Trustee Ray Semple, are "deplorable."

Still, the discussions about building a new hall never went anywhere until Weston Solutions entered the picture in 2009.

"I would like to think that we attracted Weston through our strategic economic development skill, but the truth is they knocked on our door," Lobaito said. "Regardless of how they came to us, the village saw an opportunity and we capitalized on it."

The development deal was finalized in 2012. Weston has a seven-year lease with two, three-year extensions, Lobaito said.

For the first seven years, Weston will pay the village $250,000 annually. That's $1.75 million over the entire period.

The arrangement also brings private-sector jobs and retail dollars to the community.

"Weston made a commitment to Mundelein that no other developer was willing to do, and that was moving their regional office to Mundelein in our building and bringing with them approximately 50 jobs into the downtown," Lobaito said.

The site is in the heart of Mundelein's redevelopment plans for the area. Shops, multiunit housing and green space for the public have been proposed, too.

But the village hall had to come first.

"The downtown is the center of the community, and (it's) appropriate for its government to be there too," Lobaito said.

32 staffers moving

Construction took about 14 months. The building was supposed to open earlier this month, but the transition was delayed because the facility wasn't quite ready.

It's still not entirely finished, but it's good enough to open to the public this week.

Thirty-two village employees have moved into the new building. They came from five departments: administration; finance; planning and zoning; building; and customer service.

All had worked at the old village hall or in the trailer behind it.

A highlight of the new hall is the 1,800-square-foot boardroom just off the main foyer. With no space at the old hall, village officials held public meetings in the basement of the main fire station on Midlothian Road.

Other highlights include an outdoor patio for public events, a large customer service counter and a spacious employee break area filled with natural light.

"The current area is in the basement of an old, leaky building," village Building Director Peter Schubkegel said. "I think this is going to be well used."

The new building also is environmentally friendly. Rooms are equipped with long-lasting LED lights and occupancy sensors that can adjust lighting as needed.

Upstairs, Weston employees are settling into their new offices. They moved in last week.

"It's new, so everything is nice," Eldredge said. "People are still getting acclimated and putting all their stuff away."

What of the old hall?

The fate of the old village hall hasn't been determined.

Semple knows some people may want to save the structure because of its history, but modernizing it may be too costly, he said.

"I'd like to see it stay as a building, but I don't want to spend taxpayer dollars on it," he said.

Selling the building to a private owner could be an option. Semple envisions a law firm or real estate office taking over the space.

Semple also suggested the village could keep the land, raze the building and erect a third fire station on the site.

"There's lots of possibilities," he said.

As for the new hall and the deal with Weston Solutions, Lobaito hopes other communities follow Mundelein's example.

The taxpayer, he said, is the real winner.

"There are opportunities everywhere, you just have to look for them," Lobaito said. "The key to a successful partnership is that both parties must share the risk, otherwise it is just another public contract with a private party."

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