Chicago Youth Center Breaks Ground on Phase One of Its New Campus  

by Russell Boniface
Associate Editor

Chicago-based Lawrence Hall Youth Services, a 141-year-old, not-for-profit organization that provides a critical link in the Illinois child welfare system, broke ground last month on a new 54,000-square-foot residential and treatment center on its current seven-acre site. The $17 million structure is Phase One of a long-term, $37 million, three-building campus project that will total 141,000 square feet. When complete, the three buildings will form a triangular shape surrounding a central courtyard. Phase Two will include a two-story administration building, a two-story school, and extensive recreational and green space components. Chicago-based McBride Kelley Baurer is designing the new campus, which is being built around—and will eventually replace—the existing campus.

Treating at-risk youth
Lawrence Hall Youth Services in northwest Chicago dates back to 1865, when the Civil War left thousands of children orphaned and homeless. Many flocked to Chicago seeking work and a place to live. Today, Lawrence Hall Youth Services treats, educates, and provides a home for 1,200 at-risk children and their families annually. The organization’s primary focus is metropolitan Chicago but accepts children from throughout Illinois.

Mary Hollie, chief executive officer of Lawrence Hall Youth Services, explains the characteristics of the children that receive assistance at Lawrence Hall. “Our children come to us severely traumatized, have been educationally disadvantaged, abused, neglected, and exploited,” describes Hollie. “Many are wards of the State of Illinois or have been referred to us by the public school system.” Four core Lawrence Hall program options make up its treatment offerings: residential treatment, therapeutic day school, foster care, and supervised independent living. While many are placed in the care of Lawrence Hall Youth Services at its campus, others might remain with their families in group homes in the neighborhood.

Creating a community village
The Lawrence Hall campus project began in 1998. The Phase One Residential and Treatment Center is now under construction. Currently, the campus serves 48 youth in its residential building and 100 students in its school. This capacity will remain the same for both the new residence and new school, which is part of Phase Two. “It was most important that the residential building be built first,” says Hollie. “It is where the kids live. It is their home.” After the residence hall is complete, Phase Two will begin and include the school—which will feature a library and theater—and an administration building. The design concept is that of a community village, both inside and outside, meant to evoke a feeling of home for the residents.

Jack Kelley, AIA, principal at McBride Kelley Baurer and lead architect on the project, says the major challenge of designing and constructing the new campus is building around the existing and worn 1960s-style single-family residential buildings. “It will be like performing surgery,” describes Kelley. “We have to leave the existing buildings where the kids are and build around them. But, even if we started with a clean site, we probably would have ended up with the same configuration. We heard from the staff and the children that it was important to establish a community feeling, so we grouped the buildings together and did not spread them out over the site.”

Red brick masonry with metal panel infill will make up the exterior of the three buildings. A courtyard for gathering will sit in the center of the triangle. A clock tower atop the school building and overlooking the courtyard will underscore the village design concept. Surrounding the three buildings will be green space with a nature trail, prairie area with observation boardwalk, vegetable and meditation gardens, a baseball field and a basketball court, and a native plant border.

“It’s almost a little town in and of itself,” Kelley explains. “Many non-profits just add buildings without a master plan, and as a result buildings get strung out. There is no sense of community because the people don’t see each other. We did whatever we could to create a community feeling. The great thing is, by connecting the buildings, it creates a courtyard. The children could be out in the courtyard taking a class, or the staff might be out there having a meeting. The cafeteria will open into the courtyard to further enhance that opportunity for children and staff to get together. The issue of safety and everyone being seen was also part of this design. In addition, we have a lot of open space on this site, which is efficient for recreation. Not every urban site has that.”

A centralized interior
Kelley says that it was important for the interior of the Residential and Treatment Center to also follow the village concept and not feel institutional. A residential unit is one large living area with windows to the courtyard. Inside the unit there is a living room; communal kitchen open to a center dining area; peripheral private bedrooms; open office work station; enclosed office space; dedicated space for individual, family, and group therapy; and a laundry facility. To add a home feeling, an eight-foot cooktop island sits in the middle of the room.

“We talked with kids and staff about the current environment—what they liked, what they didn’t like,” says Kelley. “They said, ‘make it feel like a home.’ We provided a centralized setting in the residential building where the children and their families are all in one building—but it doesn’t feel that way. In all, there are six apartments, each for eight children and one or two supervisors. The interior is of drywall, not painted block, and we use a lot of carpet, not ceramic tile.” Wood cabinets and laminated countertops offer other examples of at-home touches.

There will be one example on the campus site of adaptive reuse. “Out of all the existing buildings on campus,” describes Kelley, “the one we are saving in the end is a 100-year-old gymnasium, which we are renovating into a library and community room. That will round out the village Lawrence Hall envisioned.”

Hollie is pleased with the new design. “I think it is cutting edge,” she enthuses. “The architects took an enormous amount of time. They researched it thoroughly and spent a lot of time talking with the youth that we serve, staff, community members, and experts in the field to understand how we could create this village model that can enhance treatment.”

Looking ahead
Lawrence Hall is continuing its fundraising for Phase Two of construction, and the State of Illinois has already committed a $3.5 million grant. “The state realizes the leadership of Lawrence Hall and its track record,” says Kelley. “I bet everyone in the Illinois welfare system will be watching this project. Mary Hollie and her board have really taken this to another level. And they understand the value of a master plan and following that.”

Hollie is eagerly looking forward to the finished campus. “I think realistically it will be three to five years for everything to be completed. But I hope it will be much shorter. I wish I could break ground, and then cut the ribbon.”

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For more information about Lawrence Hall Youth Services, visit its Web site.

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