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College plans dorm on Central Street

1620 Central St.

National Louis University plans to buy an office building on Evanston's Central Street and turn it into a dormitory and training center for disabled young adults.

1620 Central St.
1620 Central St.

School representatives presented plans for the project to the city's Site Plan and Appearance Review Committee Wednesday.

The proposal, to house about 50 students and six live-in advisors in the Georgian-style 1950s-vintage building, would require rezoning the site at 1620 Central St., across from Mustard's Last Stand.

City officials at the meeting seemed generally receptive to the plan, although Community Development Director James Wolinski, noting that once it's owned by the university the property could be removed from the tax rolls, suggested the city might demand a payment-in-lieu of taxes in return for granting the zoning change.

The building's current owner, Evanston-based developer Bob Horner, paid nearly $96,000 in property taxes on it this year.National Louis recently sold its former campus that spanned the border between Evanston and Wilmette. It's now being redeveloped for housing. The school has moved most of its operations to office buildings in various suburbs with convenient freeway access for commuting students.

The school's vice president of operations, Bill Roberts, said the 20-year-old Professional Assistant Center for Education program attracts young people with multiple learning disabilities from across the North Shore and occasionally from out of state.

He said it helps them prepare for productive jobs in society and life independent from their families, and that most graduates of the program end up living in Evanston or Skokie because of the relatively good access to public transportation.

Because of their disabilities, the students generally are not licensed to drive, and the program does not allow them to bring vehicles to the program site, Roberts said.

In addition to the six live-in staff members, Roberts said another half-dozen instructors and other staff would be present during the day. The property has a 36-space parking lot behind the building.

Project architect Matt Hichens said the school's plans call for very little change to the building's exterior, other than replacing the old single-pane windows and adding an elevator.

But he said the interior will need a gut-rehab job to turn the office building into residential and classroom space for the program.

Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley said he understands that 7th Ward Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl favors the project and that he has not heard objections to it from community residents.

He said that as part of the rezoning process now underway for the Central Street corridor the sub-area that includes the parcel could be designed to allow dormitories as a special use.

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