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Abandoned Fire Station Could Be Humboldt Park's New Community Center

By Darryl Holliday | February 3, 2015 9:44am
 Neighborhood leaders say kids near Kells Park need a community center, especially on snow days.
Neighborhood leaders say kids near Kells Park need a community center, especially on snow days.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

HUMBOLDT PARK — Hundreds of teens pass through Kells Park each week for school, often crowding into the Richard M. Daley Library for study, snacks and after-school activities.

The library at Chicago and Kedzie avenues is a vital resource, but a coalition of Humboldt Park neighborhood groups said it’s time for Kells Park to have a year-round facility of its own — especially for these snowy days.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), the West Humboldt Park Development Council, and the Kells Park Advisory Council are working to create a field house from a fire station that has been vacant on the southeast edge of the park since 1981.

The 96-year-old stand-alone station, which formerly housed Chicago Fire Department Truck Co. 36, could make a perfect community center while relieving pressure on the block, according to Chet Jackson, executive director of the West Humboldt Park Development Council.

“This is a community park with no facility occurring during the winter months,” Jackson said, adding that early plans include space for basketball, meditation, community meeting rooms, gardening space and  a commercial kitchen.

As it stands, the old fire station is used as a storage facility and has been hit by scrappers, sinking it further into disrepair each year, according to Burnett.

“We’re looking at coming up with dollars to rehab it,” the alderman said. “It’s a beautiful park right across the street from the Richard Daley library, which is packed with children every day — almost like a field house itself.”

The station is structurally sound but would need to be restored and improved, at an early estimate of around $500,000, according to Jackson. Local tax increment financing could be used to kick-start funding, Burnett said.

“In inclement weather, kids have nothing to do and nowhere to go — and no one directing them except volunteers from the community,” he continued. “The need [for the field house] is to give parents a level of comfort that there will be some structure going on there.”

A solution to the empty fire station has been on the books for years, Burnett said, and two local community councils have driven the field house project forward in recent months. The plan includes buying the fire station land from the city and setting up the field house as a nonprofit entity run by the West Humboldt Park Development Council, which is weighing options to fund the project.

Burnett said he expects the groups to meet with participating city departments in March, before citywide budget decisions in October. In the meantime, he said he hopes to see warm weather events, such as a monthly step dancing event, and the beginnings of programming around the field house/fire station this summer.

“I’m optimistic this will happen, and I think it’ll be in full gear next year, but were planting the seeds this year. It’s coming together,” he said.

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