City of Highland Park staff want the city’s senior center to be more inviting and are working through plans to modernize the space.
The Highland Park Senior Center, 1201 Park Ave West, in the country club building, will undergo renovations in 2024 that are set to conclude during the calendar year.
Assistant City Manager Erin Jason gave a presentation during Monday, Oct. 23’s Committee of the Whole session about the senior center, which serves more than 850 members age 50+ and offers 30 to 40 individual activities, programs and classes per week, and 900 activities events in the course of a year.
The Highland Park Country Club, a private club and golf course, opened in 1969. The City purchased the facility in 1996 and moved the senior center into the building in 2020. According to City documents, senior center membership has grown over the past two years.
The building is also rented out for private events, such as as weddings and corporate events, on evenings and weekends. And it is attached to the Park District of Highland Park’s recreation center.
The City approved in June a contract with architectural firm Holabird and Root, which produced a survey and study that led the city to pursue several renovations for the building, including the removal one of the fireplaces, demolition of the outdated and dormant lower-level kitchen space, an update to the upstairs kitchen to focus on catering, renovation of the multipurpose rooms to allow for appropriate equipment, and the installation of office space.
Councilmembers disagreed over whether the city should allow donations to the senior center renovations and allow naming rights at the facility.
“To say ‘you with the big check, we’re now going to name this public government building because you’re rich’ just doesn’t seem to reflect the values that we’ve really carefully pulled together,” Mayor Nancy Rotering said.
She said that honoring certain people would demonstrate favoritism, which is contrary to the city’s values.
Councilmember Tony Blumberg agreed with Rotering and said naming government buildings for donors does not foster inclusivity.
“We don’t name fire stations, we don’t name public buildings that are owned and operated by the municipality, it creates a sense of exclusivity,” he said. “With the history of this having previously been a country club, I’d like to get away from that.”
Most councilmembers — including Kim Stone, Annette Lidawer and Andrés Tapia — pushed back on Rotering’s reasoning, hoping that donations might help fill the gaps in the senior center renovation budget.
Councilmember Jeff Hoobler suggested an overarching name for the building and additional names for micro-spaces such as facilities and individual rooms.
Additionally, Hoobler opposed the removal of the senior center cafe that Jason explained in the presentation.
“I think we’re being totally short-sighted if we’re thinking ‘I want this to be a traditional senior center.’ I think it can be so much more than a traditional senior center,” Hoobler said. “How do we make this something really spectacular, not just a senior center? We want to make sure we can preserve everything so it can be a senior center, but I think not putting that stuff on the table is a huge mistake.”
Lidawer expressed support for one overarching name for the center, as she said it highlights the multipurpose aspect of the adjacent preserve and recreation center as well as creating a community-centric feel to the facilities.
Councilmembers also expressed interest in moving away from the “senior center” title as it implies that only elderly citizens are welcome when the center offers activities for people 50 and up.
City Manager Ghida Neukirch said city staff will continue to work on the budget before any plans are voted on.
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Rosie Newmark is a 2023 Record intern and an incoming senior studying journalism and history at Northwestern University. Rosie has written for multiple campus publications in addition to the Hyde Park Herald and American Libraries Magazine.