Former South Elgin public works building to become new home for Boys & Girls Club
Cathy Russell, CEO of Boys & Girls Club of Elgin, has a vision.
"I fell in love with this spot when we walked in here," Russell said, as she walked through the dingy former public works building in South Elgin.
Cinder block walls, concrete floors, dim fluorescent lighting, the faint smell of truck exhaust. What's not to love?
But Russell saw the big picture when she toured the building with a group in 2019. A 20,000-square-foot space in a residential/industrial neighborhood next to a public park. She couldn't think of a better spot for a clubhouse. She said it was "perfect."
It was a blank slate, just waiting to serve 250 kindergarten through eighth-grade kids a day.
"Some lucky people are going to get to go out and knock on all those doors (in the neighborhood) and say 'Hey, there's going to be this free program that's open every single day for your kids, and it's going to be a safe place for them to go and have amazing experiences,' " she said. "It's going to be phenomenal."
The facility at 735 Martin Drive will be repurposed to include a gym, kitchen, cafe, several activity spaces, conference space and more. Interior demolition work is slated to begin this week, leaving just the exterior walls, floor and roof for now.
A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new construction work is scheduled for June 29, and officials hope to open later this year.
Russell said plans are being finalized with an architect. The gym will be the center of the action, with the rest of rooms around the outside. Russell said her 20 years of experience with the Boys & Girls Club has given her lots of ideas.
"I've seen hundreds of clubs, and just to be able to pick things out of each one that you love, plus the ideas we already had," she said.
Some of those ideas include a sensory room for kids with special needs, a maker's space -- "imagine your dad's garage on steroids," Russell said -- with an emphasis on STEM, an art center and a teen room for sixth- through eighth-graders. There will also be a cafe that can feed about 60 kids at a time from a full-service kitchen equipped with a walk-in freezer and cooler.
The South Elgin club falls under the umbrella of the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin. All of the administrative offices now located in the Elgin clubhouse on Dundee Avenue will also move to the South Elgin building.
The facility will feature a laundry room and shower, in addition to a sick room where kids can wait to be picked up if they're ill.
"These are all things we don't have at the Elgin clubhouse," she said.
South Elgin Village Administrator Steve Super first suggested the idea of partnering the Boys & Girls Club with the village to use the property at the first meeting of a committee tasked with finding the club a home.
"We were considering tearing it down," said Super, who was a member of the Boys & Girls Club as a kid and now sits on its board. "It was in really bad shape, but when everybody went over there, they really loved it. It's the best kind of public/private partnership. The village team is excited about giving kids that right now don't have a lot to do after school, a place to go and get a meal, do their homework, make friends and have some structure. This is outstanding."
The village will charge the club a nominal rent for the building.
Russell said she expects the total budget for the project to be about $3.7 million. But with costs expected to be higher, she's counting on the community and businesses to offer some in-kind services. Elgin's Midwest Wrecking Company, for example, has already volunteered to do the demolition.
"Now more than ever, people want to help kids," said Russell, who added that in her experience, she's never had as many people reach out to volunteer or donate. "Everyone is worried about the impact COVID has had on our kids and their mental health."