Easterseals breaks ground on its new Fitness, Wellness, and Recreation Center
November 2, 2017

The new recreational facility, adjacent to the Easterseals Academy, will cost an estimated $12 to $14 million.

By Marie Balice-Ward

On sun-drenched September 28, Easterseals held a groundbreaking for its 26,378 square foot Fitness, Wellness and Recreation Center for its clients, children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and other disabilities. Easterseals also plans to allow other area organizations to use the facility at 1939 W. 13th St.

Formerly Easter Seals, the organization changed its name and logo in a 2016 branding update.

Project co-chairs Terrence J. Hancock and William J. Nolan are Easterseals board members. Hancock is president of Teamsters Joint Council 25 and Teamsters Local Union 731. “I am the proud father of an autistic son, Bryan, now 23 years of age,” he said. Nolan is past-president of the Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7.

Sharing his personal experience with Gazette Chicago, alumnus Maurice Snell said, “I joined the Easterseals therapeutic school at the age of six and attended for eight years. I was then able to make the transition to a public
school and later attended St. Xavier University. Currently, I am employed in the Easterseals development department as development coordinator.”

Alumna Mia Montegna, a successful artist, said, “I’m glad to be back here.” She donated $5,000 from the sale of her art to Easterseals for the project.

“We are hopeful that this new facility will help serve challenged individuals as a stepping stone toward independent living, self-sufficiency, and improvement to their quality of life,” Hancock said.

Fundraising campaign

The facility, adjacent to the Easterseals Academy, will cost an estimated $12 to $14 million and will include a gymnasium, running track, fitness loft, auditorium, and stage. The groundbreaking ceremony launched Easterseals’ major capital campaign, Building a Healthier Tomorrow, with a goal of $12 million.

The organization already has raised a sizable amount in what Easterseals president and CEO Tim Muri called the campaign’s “quiet phase,” and he noted that, with the groundbreaking ceremony, the fundraising has gone public. “We are very grateful to our donors and partners who are changing the lives of individuals with autism and helping Easterseals to realize this dream,” Muri said. Huntington Bank is working with Easterseals on financing for the project.

“This facility is for children primarily, and on nights and weekends for the community,” Muri explained. “We are very excited about what it will mean for the children and community.”

The academy currently has 120 clients; with the new facility, Muri expects a minor increase in enrollment.

The facility will be located at the Terrence J. Hancock Family Campus. According to Easterseals, research shows extracurricular activity increases levels of social engagement, self-confidence, and coping skills for people with disabilities. With this facility, it will help clients build healthy lifestyle habits, learn new communication and social skills, and increase opportunities for community engagement.

A basketball court is one of the new center’s recreational amenities.

Opening in 2018

Officials expect to open the site before the school year that begins in August 2018, said Amy Curtis, CFO. “There also are several organizations that have indicated interest in utilizing this future facility, among them the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is interested in holding training sessions here,” she added, noting officials from the University of Illinois at Chicago Cancer Center and the Jesse Brown Veterans Administration Medical Center also have expressed interest in access to the facility.

Muri said, “This has been a dream for a number of years—now in its final phase.”  Echoing that sentiment, COO Barbara Zawacki stated, “It has been a long time coming. We look forward to giving back to the community with this new facility.”

State Senator Patricia Van Pelt (D-5th) said, “This is my district. I am excited about this new facility. It means a lot that so many have extended their resources and we need more of them.” 

Alderman Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said, “This is a great day. This expansion will improve Easterseals’ ability help the disadvantaged.”

Both Van Pelt and Ervin said they are committed to helping make the facility a reality.

Andrew Sprogis, chairman of Easterseals’s board of directors and executive director of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP, said, “This project started a year and a half ago. The board was on board, engaged, and dedicated. This is evidence of what we can do by working together.”

Mary Beth Clausen, board member, said, “It is so important to get this project completed.”

Other board members include vice chairman Mark O’Toole, secretary Savino Nuccio D’Argento, and treasurer John G. Anos. Nolan is chairman emeritus. Honorary board members include actor Joe Mantegna and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.

Easterseals supporter Kevin Graham, current president of Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7, stated, “It is a privilege to have been associated with Easterseals for many years. I look forward to working with everyone over the coming years.”

Ed Swietek, chairman of the board for contractor Kroeschell Inc., presented a $54,000 contribution. “Our involvement with Easterseals is now in its fourth year,” Swietek said. “We expect we will raise this amount or more next year.” 

Clune Construction is building the new facility. “Clune has thoroughly enjoyed its partnership with Easterseals for several years now,” said Pat Kinsella, Clune senior vice president and project executive. “We are extremely excited to be able to work with them on the fulfillment of the project.”

For more information, log on to http://www.easterseals.com/.