By Gregory Trotter – September 2, 2014
The Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association — also known as NSSRA — remains in the hunt for new headquarters after a promising option in Northbrook fell through recently.
The organization, which provides recreation opportunities for people with disabilities in 10 park districts and three municipalities on the North Shore, announced last summer that it was looking for new digs. The current NSSRA facility in Northbrook is too small and unsafe to access, said Craig Culp, executive director for the special recreation association.
After NSSRA launched a $4.6 million plan to move in with one of its partner agencies, two possibilities emerged this summer in Northbrook and Highland Park.
But Northbrook Park District officials recently shelved a proposed $50 million bond referendum to renovate the Five Seasons Sports Complex into a community recreation center, which would have housed NSSRA. Community surveys showed a majority of residents opposed the idea.
“It was a very good opportunity,” Culp said of the Northbrook plan. “But with all of the balls in the air, not everything ended up lining up.”
The Northbrook recreation center would have been a good fit for NSSRA, in part because of the access to programming space like the swimming pool and gym, he said.
Highland Park is only remaining option “with a name on it,” as Culp puts it.
The city of Highland Park has been in discussions with several organizations to build the Community Family Center on about an acre of park district land behind the Firehouse building and near the Karger Center, both of which are on Green Bay Road, officials have said.
The Community Family Center would provide a sort of one-stop shop for people in need of social services and could provide a new home to NSSRA.
But Culp and others say there are many details yet to be determined, including how the space would work for the various entities that could be housed there and how exactly the project would be funded.
“It’s still plugging along,” Culp said. “That opportunity is still out there. … But beyond talks, there’s not a whole lot solid yet.”
Highland Park Nancy Rotering said the recent stalling out of the Northbrook project “enhanced” the city’s interest in making the Community Family Center work for NSSRA.
“We’re strongly interested in moving on to the next step,” Rotering said.
A memorandum of understanding would represent that next step, she said, but first there are the issues of space and fundraising that need be to hashed out.
The other organizations that would be housed there include Highland Park Community Nursery and Day Care Center; Tri-Con Child Care Center; Highland Park/Highwood Home Child Care Association; Family Service: Prevention, Education and Counseling NFP; and Family Network.
The Moraine Township may end up moving its food pantry and offices there, but it’s not currently an active participant in the discussions, said Moraine Township Supervisor Anne Flanigan Bassi.
“I think the entities with special needs need to figure out what they need first,” Bassi said.
Officials have estimated the building could be between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet — putting rough estimated costs between $10 million and $15 million.
Liza McElroy, executive director of the Park District of Highland Park, also sits on the NSSRA board of directors. She noted the site of the proposed Community Family Center would be a good location for NSSRA given its proximity to public transportation, downtown Highland Park and Sunset Woods Park.
“I think there’s a lot of interest, but there are still so many unknowns,” McElroy said. “It’s too soon to say what it’s future will be.”
The NSSRA owns its existing office in Northbrook, Culp said. As one reason for the move, Culp cited the lack of space to meet with families to discuss the personal needs for their children. There’s also the parking lot shared with industrial businesses.
“As I’ve said before, 18-wheelers and individuals with disabilities don’t mix,” he said.
But he also acknowledged it could take time to find the right fit for both NSSRA and a prospective partner. And much of that will depend on the support of those in the community, he said.
“We’re the back seat passenger in this,” Culp said.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune