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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 07:05 pm

Housing project cause for optimism and concern

Enos Park apartments will serve people with disabilities

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An architectural drawing of the Hope Springs Apartments, under construction on North Ninth St.

“Believe it or not, it was my sister who made the connection between me and SIU,” recalls Dulcinea Gillman. The former Springfield resident is now CEO of Critchfield Construction, an Elmhurst development firm in charge of building Hope Springs Apartments, currently under construction at 1135 N. 9th St. in the Enos Park neighborhood of Springfield (the address was formerly an abandoned Hardee’s). “She is a social worker in town,” Gillman continues, “and she knew someone who worked at SIU’s Community Support Network, so I just made a presentation to them. I knew they needed housing for their participants and we hit it off right away.”

The 36-unit complex has been designed as high-quality, affordable housing for people with disabilities being served by the local medical system. “Most social service organizations know their end of the work, which is to provide services on the front lines to human beings,” says Gillman, “but they need us to come in and do a turnkey kind of thing, where we just make ’em a building.”

“We’re thrilled that we’re at this location, we think we’ll be an amenity to the medical district and to the Enos Park neighborhood,” explains Audra Hamernik, executive director of Bluestem Housing Partners, a Downers Grove-based nonprofit which works closely with Gillman’s company. Hamernik is quick to draw a distinction between the function of the new building and a stereotypical “group home” type of establishment. “This is clearly not congregate care,” she says. “Every resident will have a lease on their apartment. There will be no shared bathrooms, no cafeteria. These apartments are for people who can live independently, with supports.”

Hamernik says the project will be paying property taxes which should benefit the neighborhood through its Tax Increment Finance district.

Nonetheless, the project has triggered concerns within the neighborhood. “Two years ago when we met with the developers and the medical district, we were very supportive of the program,” says Steve Combs, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association. “We were excited about something going in to help fix up that corner of our neighborhood. We were told, initially, that there would be 24/7 security on-site, but gradually that position started to change, and we expressed concern about it. The apartment complex right next to it, the Hildebrandt, had an ongoing record of attracting undesirable people – not the people who live there, but the people who prey upon the people who live there. Now we’ve been informed that they won’t have on-site security there after business hours. So in that regard, we are concerned.”

“It is a very vulnerable population, but we have been doing this a long time and know our clients well,” explains Karen Lee, executive director of SIU’s Community Support Network. “There will be closed-circuit TV cameras going straight to SIU security, 24 hours a day. There will also be 24/7 emergency services available. It is a locked, secure facility and all tenants will have keys. We are even exploring the potential for face-recognition software to be able to detect the presence of intruders.”

“If I had an adult child with special needs,” says Hamernik, “this is exactly the place I would want my child to live. I can’t tell you how many people I talk to around the state who are in that situation, and it breaks my heart. I wish we had enough housing for all of them.”

For his part, Combs remains cautious but optimistic. “We’re gonna make the darn thing work. We are very excited about it and we want Enos Park to be seen as the residential area for the medical district. But the security issue still hangs out there. I hope we’re wrong.”

Contact Scott Faingold at scottfaingold@gmail.com.

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