WOODLAWN — The Experimental Station is outgrowing its home and is making a bid to expand into a nearby firehouse left vacant by the city.
Connie Spreen, executive director of the nonprofit at 6100 S. Dorchester Ave., presented a plan at Wednesday night’s 20th Ward meeting to renovate the firehouse at 1405 E. 62nd St. as the new home for Blackstone Bicycle Works and other programs run by Experimental Station.
“We just don’t have room for all the stuff that is going on,” Spreen said.
Experimental Station would convert the one-story section of the building into the bike shop that teaches neighborhood kids how to fix bikes and run a small business. It would provide room to store more of the bikes that are currently in large shipping containers at its current home as well as add room for the shop’s tutoring program and an outdoor courtyard.
The remainder of the first floor would mostly be used for a shared kitchen that would capitalize on the fresh produce coming to the 61st Street Farmers Market the nonprofit runs.
“We’v had a lot of experience over the past 10 years with the farmers market with people who want to start a food business but can’t because they don’t have access to a kitchen,” Spreen said.
The building would also have room office space, a small gallery and potentially one or two small retail spaces.
Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) was supportive of the plan moving forward to a review by the city’s Department of Planning and Development, but warned Spreen that the property’s problems had scuttled other good plans.
“We’ll see how this all unfolds,” Cochran said. While the proposal might not end up winning city approval, "this one has gotten farther than any other in the last 11 years.”
He said the property has asbestos that needs to be removed, which he said some estimates put as high as $350,000 to clean up.
Spreen said she is still in the process of raising the money for the project and is not sure yet what the total cost will be.
The property would likely be sold at a discounted price, possibly as low as $1, if bought by a nonprofit though that has yet to be negotiated.