CLC's Lakeshore campus in Waukegan to include $15 million Urban Farm Center

Farming is coming to downtown Waukegan, but operations won't involve a barn or tractors.

The College of Lake County's Urban Farm Center will be housed in a sleek $15 million building to promote modern agricultural techniques and provide a diverse, year-round supply of locally grown food.

Envisioned as the latest addition to CLC's Lakeshore campus, the 23,582-square-foot grow center at Sheridan Road and Madison Street will offer opportunities for students and community members alike.

It also will unlock potential for public good, spur economic development and increase the area's vibrancy, according to CLC President Lori Suddick.

The site is vacant and had been used as a staging area for the recently completed Student Center at 34 N. Sheridan Road. The city last week approved height and setback variations, and fundraising is getting underway.

Besides training students in hydroponic and greenhouse growing in a controlled environment, the center will offer local entrepreneurs space to grow, process and distribute food, according to the college. An indoor retail market featuring local food products will operate inside, according to plans.

Also, a “VeggieRx” program is planned as an economic opportunity for growers while making the local crops and nutrition education available to the general public.

As designed, the lab and instructional spaces will include:

• “Vertical production” for growing leafy greens and herbs.

• A hydroponic greenhouse for crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

• Space to grow microgreens and mushrooms.

• A multipurpose classroom.

• Instructional/demonstration kitchens.

“There's a lot of transparency designed into the building,” said Eliza Fournier, CLC's urban farm director. “Passersby will see food growing pretty much 12 months of the year.”

Fournier worked 20 years at the Chicago Botanic Garden and was a director at the Farm on Ogden in Chicago's Lawndale neighborhood. The venture by the Botanic Garden and Lawndale Christian Health Center opened in summer 2018 and is a template of sorts for the Waukegan project.

“The motto is they grow food, health and jobs,” said Fournier, who came to CLC in late 2021.

An operation like this at an urban location in Waukegan was raised several years ago but didn't advance until CLC got involved. The college has invested more than $50 million in its Waukegan Lakeshore campus the past five years, and the Urban Farm Center was chosen to advance a continuing revitalization.

According to the college, entrepreneurship, food as medicine, health and wellness, supply chain management and marketing will be among the lessons to be learned as part of the urban farm program.

CLC needed city approvals for variations from its height and setback requirements. City rules call for buildings to be six stories or greater and to be built to the property line in that area of downtown.

The city council last week approved CLC's request for a single-story building that will be 22 feet back from the property line. Indoor and outdoor seating will be provided along North Sheridan Road and East Madison Street.

“The proposed project would be an opportunity to beautify and reinvigorate the existing space,” CLC said in its application, and “create a destination within the heart of downtown Waukegan.”

CLC plans on raising $15 million in private funding for the project, and $3 million has been secured, according to Lindsey Nemcek, public relations manager. Construction will begin when 75% of the total cost has been raised, she added.

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With approvals for height and setback variations from the city, the College of Lake County is gearing up fundraising for its planned $15 million Urban Farm Center in Waukegan. Courtesy of College of Lake County
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