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Upgrades could be in the works for Founders Community Center

Upgrades could be in store for the Founders Community Center pending further review and action by members of the Frankfort Park District Board of Commissioners.

At an April 18 special meeting, Park District officials approved a pre-design contract with William Architects. That measure will help in determining what, if any, improvements can be made within the footprint of the community center.

Frankfort Park District executive director Gina Hassett said officials are cognizant of the community’s concerns and stressed that officials intend to find a solution to the challenges posed to the facility.

“For the past five years the District has been evaluating way to improve the indoor space available for the residents,” she said. “In 2016, the Park District surveyed the community to see if there was support to construct a 50,000-square-foot recreation center. There was positive feedback regarding the community center, but there was significant concerns given the recent closing of Lincoln Way North High School.”

Plans to go out to referendum seeking added funding for Founders Community Center upgrades were shelved last fall.

Park District records show that residents expressed they were unwilling to support a $13.1 million referendum project “based on information gathered at multiple community outreach meetings, a public opinion survey sent to over 4,000 households, and a recommendation received from a citizens task force.”

The Frankfort Park District Board of Commissioners voted 7-0 to reject the idea of placing a referendum question on the ballot to gauge community interest in funding the construction of a community recreation center.

Hassett said the Park Board listened to the community and decided not to move forward with the project. The District continues to evaluate ways to improve the existing facility, she said.

“The evaluation of the Founders Center will determine if the current space could be reconfigured to better serve existing programs and allow for growth in District programs,” Hassett said. “If the stage and bleachers were removed, it may allow for two practice gyms and additional space for programs or a small fitness center. The idea is that space would be reconfigured in the existing footprint. The review is just that—a ‘review’ of the local zoning and building code to see what, if anything, can be restructured at the Founders Center.”

The review, which was approved by the Park Board, consists of a zoning study, building code check, building space program and site diagrams. This process could take six to nine months.

“The Park Board realizes that Founders Center is a neighborhood setting, and if it is feasible to remodel the space, it is important to be aware of the impact on the neighbors,” Hassett said. “This is where it is key to conduct a review which will determine what is permitted but also as to what makes sense as the goal would be limit the impact on the neighbors.”

The 32,000-square-foot site now housing the Founders Community Center was originally designed to be a school in the 1940’s, with additions constructed in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.

Typically, Park District staff will utilize the classrooms for programs and meeting space. A multipurpose room is available for programs and rental space. It also comes equipped with space for a gym, stage and bleachers.

“The Park District has a wonderful asset, which is the Founders Center,” Hassett said. “It is centrally located near the downtown.”

Hassett said the facility has its share of challenges, too.

“In addition to the Founders Center, the FP District utilizes the grade schools and high school gyms for programs and leagues,” she said. “However, at times, there is a need for additional gym space outside of what is available to fill the District needs. Gym space at the high school is limited to after high school sports, and with the closing of North, the schools needs have grown.”

If findings from the review warrant further exploration, Park District officials will need Phase II work to begin studying existing conditions, conceptual drawings, exterior elevations, exterior 3-D images and cost estimate.

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