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Chicago Sun-Times

Roughly one year after saving the Central Lake YMCA in Vernon Hills and spending around $1 million to renovate the facility, park commissions are now considering a $6 million expansion onto the renamed Lakeview Fitness Center.

The Vernon Hills Park District recently submitted a proposal to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in hopes of receiving a $2.5 million rebate on the project.

Park Board President David Doerhoefer said many of the proposed upgrades are on the district's long-term plan, but the decision to push now came after Illinois reinstated the grant program to create construction jobs.

"We have to take advantage of anything and everything that can help our residents," Doerhoefer said. "It would be foolish to not apply for this money."

The proposal involves adding 15,000 square feet onto the Lakeview building at 700 Lakeview Parkway.

About 7,500 square feet would go toward extra cardio workout space, and about 5,000 square feet would used to create a gymnasium with an elevated walking track and the remaining 2,500 square feet would be used for storage.

Jeff Fougerousse, the park district's executive director, said none of the schools in Vernon Hills have an indoor track, and only one of private fitness center does.

"We do a community survey every five years, and in 2009 a common item that a lot of respondents talked about was an indoor track," Fougerousse said.

The proposed track at Lakeview would be above the basketball court, accessible by stairs and an elevator. Fougerousse said that feature would better spread out the traffic so joggers don't trip over loose basketballs.

A minor expansion of the pool is also described in the grant proposal. The pool currently has four six-foot wide lanes for lap swimming and a large recreation swimming area. The pool would be modified to create six seven-foot wide swimming lanes so two swimmers could occupy a lane and therefore triple the amount of use.

"It would look more like a pool reminiscent of a physical fitness facility rather than a playground with a couple of lap lanes," Doerhoefer said.

The locker rooms would also see upgrades. Each room now has 16 showers, but if renovated would be reduced to eight showers with more lockers and carpeted area.

With additional storage planned in the proposal, Fougerousse said one of the current storage areas might get renovated into another dance studio.

Doerhoefer said Illinois will choose grant recipients by summer's end. If the park district does not get a grant, he continued, the Park Board will decide at that point if the $6 million expansion will move forward or get postponed.

The park district bought the facility and its clients in late 2012 using a $2 million interest-free loan from the Village of Vernon Hills.

The Lake Family YMCA organization was shutting down due to financial woes and allowed Vernon Hills to negotiate a sale before the facility shut down and customers went elsewhere.

Village trustees and park commissioners were most interested in preserving the childcare services that help parents who live or work in Vernon Hills.

Park officials took over the building on Jan. 1, 2013, and the childcare was at 57 percent capacity. Officials say the program is now at 73 percent capacity and they expect being above 80 percent by mid-April.

When the park district merged its members with what remained from the YMCA, that total was 1,900. Now, a year later, the park district's fitness membership is at 2,840. A 10 percent discount sale earlier this year brought in 265 new members, equally about $50,000 in annual revenue.

Six months after buying the building, park commissioners invested nearly $500,000 in roof repairs and HVAC upgrades, and then another $500,000 on interior renovations that repurposed poorly-utilized space.

All the fitness equipment from the Sullivan Center was moved into the new Lakeview building in 2013 and now that space in the Sullivan Center is being used for growing before and after school services and clubs.

"I would do it again in a heartbeat," Doerhoefer said. "You're not going to know the total impact in the investment until you get about three years down the road. Until then, you're still in the honeymoon stage because people sign up at new places and you're frequently in the news. The key issue is being able to sustain it."


April 1, 2014


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