Despite complaints from competitors, a new child care center proposed for downtown Evanston won unanimous support from the Zoning Board of Appeals Tuesday night.

Bright Horizons, the for-profit company that wants to open the new center, needs City Council approval for a special use permit to operate at the 1629 Orrington Ave. site.

The two-story building, part of the development that also includes Evanston’s tallest building, the 1603 Orrington tower, has been vacant for a decade. It previously housed a Border’s bookstore, and before that a Walgreen’s drug store.

The plan call for caring for up to 308 children, with infants and toddlers on the first floor and three- and four-year-olds on the second floor.

Bright Horizons would add a play area for the youngest children on the plaza between the building and a parking area, and one for the older kids on the building’s roof.

The plans drew opposition from Martha Arntson of the Childcare Network of Evanston and Cass Wolfe of the Infant Welfare Society, representing non-profit day care providers in town.

Top: An architect’s rendering of plans for the new day care facility. Above: Martha Arntson and Cass Wolfe at the ZBA hearing.

Wolfe disputed claims by Bright Horizons that there is a shortage of day care slots in Evanston, especially for older children, and voiced fears that some non-profit programs would end up closing because of the new competition.

Arntson said “long-time Evanston centers run by people who know and care about the community may be forced out of business.”

She said the non-profits reserve spaces for low income families who receive day care subsidies from the state. If those centers close, “where would they go for high quality child care?” Arntson asked.

But Debbie Brown, vice president for client services at Bright Horizons, said it was impractical to open a center just for infants and toddlers, because, given wait-lists at all the centers, parents would have to almost immediately start thinking about where to move their child once they aged out of the program.

No one wants to have their child get comfortable in a program “and then at age three be uprooted and start a new program,” Brown said.

Brown also argued that there are big shortages of child-care slots in areas adjacent to Evanston, including the Chicago neighborhoods of Rogers Park and West Ridge and the Village of Skokie. She said both Bright Horizons and the non-profits in Evanston could draw enrollment from those areas.

Both sides cited a recent study of day-care demand in the state by IFF, a real estate consultant and lender to non-profits in Illinois.

ZBA Chair Lori Summers said that given that Skokie has a shortage of almost 50 percent of its potential demand for day care slots, “certainly more spaces could be accommodated.”

The panel also found no objections to the physical plans for the site and concluded that all the standards for granting a special use permit had been met.

Update: The special use permit for the Bright Horizons site at 1629 Orrington Ave. was given final City Council approval on Jan. 21.

Related story

Day care center proposed for old Border’s site

Related documents

ZBA packet with proposal details

IFF day-care demand study

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. This is very exciting to

    This is very exciting to hear!  It is very frustrating that Northwestern University employs so many people yet there is no daycare nearby.  In fact, Northwestern is the only school out of the Big Ten that doesn't have a daycare, especially for infants.

    1. NU Daycare

      I worked for NU twenty years ago and left because I couldn't find affordable daycare. It's appalling to me that it has taken them this long to offer anything to their staff.

  2. Non-profits don’t want competition?

    Members of two Evanston non-profit daycare centers took time to publicly testify that the city should not support a private daycare center because it would drive them out of business. As if competition is harmful.

    Doesn't that just take the cake.

    Folks, this is the mindset of our entitlement society. And it shows that these non-profits are more concerned about THEIR organization than the people who need daycare services in Evanston.

    Non-profits who thrive on government subsidies believe they should be exempt from competiting with for-profit companies. Imagine if the U.S. Post Office was able to convince legislators to prevent UPS and Fed-Ex from delivering mail.

    I suppose these non-profits could use their political connections to convince Evanston aldermen to impose a special use fee or some childcare tax to squeeze Bright Horizons. Don't be surprised if something like that happens.

  3. There IS a shortage in Evanston!

    I'm surprised by the comments of the non-profit daycare centers.  Infant spots are hard to come by around here.  We were told by one agency that we should look into nanny sharing, because the wait lists in town for infants were so long.   Options open up after age 18 – 24 mos.

    I agree with Bright Horizons about people not wanting to move their children if they age out of a toddler program.  Would make no sense to do only infants/young toddlers. 

  4. Evanston’s High Quality Non-Profit Organizations

    Local non-profit daycare facilities have a vested interest in the success of our community, providing high quality child care to all types of Evanston families, including families receiving state subsidies.  National, for profit organizations do not share the same focus.  The non-profits are not, as Anonymous Al suggested, more concerned about their own interest.  Rather, they are advocating for the vulnerable families they serve.  

    While Northwestern does need a daycare for its faculty and staff, it is unfortunate that it will not be a local, research based daycare more in line with the needs of the Evanston community and the high quality developmental research being conducted at the university.  

  5. Daycare in Evanston

    Based on my experience, there is a need for higher quality child care in Evanston.  I remember begging the Y to reduce the high staff turnover by increasing staff salaries.  I was told that it would be unfair to other Y employees!   I was also told that parents were not willing to pay for higher quality of care.  I was, as were others with their infants in the program. The Y wasn't interested.

    While we were able to move our child to a better (and more expensive) prorgam after toilet training was completed, I wish I had had the choice of a higher quality center.

    1. Daycare in Evanston

      There is a miconception that if you pay more for childcare that you will get better quality care and lower turnover of staff. Bright Horizons is a for-profit day care, they are paying their staff the same or lower wages than the Y because they are in the business of making money.

      It surprises me that Northwestern a "big 10 school" is partnering with a company that does not require it's daycares to be NAYEC accredited nor has staff with BA's in early childhood. Surely that should be important to them.

      1. Misconceptions about daycare

        I did not know that all of the caregivers at non-profit daycare facilitiies had BAs.  When my infant was at the Y most of the teachers had less than a BA.  Maybe things have changed.

        I don't think there is a misconception when, in a four month period, three out of seven staff members left to take positions at other facilities FOR MORE MONEY..  I asked.  They told me.

        There is a perception among the daycare employers in Evanston that they have to keep salaries down and "in-line" with other providers.  There is also a perception that, somehow, if you make a commitment to serving lower income families the absolute costs of care have to be impossibly and unsustainably low.  Don't want to make things really, really good for kids on scholarship so everyone has to deal with lower quality.

        Northwestern has, for many, many years, provided reduced or lower tuition for a lot of lower income kids by charging higher income families more.  It works.  And no one complains.



  6. Non-Profit day care providers a problem?

    I find it troubling that non-profit day care providers  – who take our tax dollars each year, since our silly council keeps giving them money, have the nerve to try to prevent a for profit operation from openning up. I believe the city has given non-profit day cares in this town well over 1 million dollars in ten years!

    The new day center will provide a large group of potential new customers to the businesses in this area of the down town which is hurting.

    I also think it is very troubling, that these individuals are claiming there is no need, the data posted in this article shows a need for day care.  Also several posters have indicated a need.

    If I am reading what these individual are saying they are saying don't allow this to open, so people have to use our day care centers, if this business is better it will take our paying customers, isn't this is what competition is all about?

    I also am trouble by the fact these individuals have tried to limit competition, while I am not a legal authority, businesses that act together to limit competitor actions are in violation of anti-trust laws, i would believe non-profits are not exempt from the law?  Although only a legal authority can determine if any laws have been broken. 

    The council would be well advised to approve this, with no restrictions, any actions that limit this business ability to operator could clearly lead to legal problems for the city.



  7. Big fan of Bright Horizons

    As a single working mom of 2 in Evanston, I can attest that there is a need for full time, quality, daycare, especially for infants and toddlers.  Both of my kids – now 7 and 5 – started at Bright Horizons at 3 months of age and continued through junior kindergarten.  They both began at a downtown Chicago Bright Horizons hosted by my previous employer and we then moved the younger child up to the Bright Horizons located at Northshore University Hospital when our oldest began kindergarten in the D65 system.   Her transition from one location to the other was seamless. 

    I cannot say enough about the staff at both locations.  Each teacher we had was compassionate, sensitive to each child's individual needs and family's situation.  Especially when they were younger, the teachers and staff became extensions of our family. 

    We were extremely pleased that when both children entered kindergarten, they were both well-prepared academically and socially.

    I would be curious to know if any of the parties who are crticizing Bright Horizons have had a personal experience with the teachers or the corporation?  And by the way, each location we were at was NAYEC accredited and Bright Horizons has repeatedly received national recognition as a quality employer. 

    Of course Bright Horizons isn't the best fit for every family. But fit is not just a "for-profit" or "nonprofit" decision.   We looked at other options in Evanston (one a NP and one a FP) and the other locations' culture and environment just didn't fit the standards that our family was seeking.

    Evanston is 80,000 strong and if we want to continue to attract young, growing families, we should have options available to them.  For those of us who choose to live here, it should be expected that both parents will work full-time (to afford housing and taxes as others have pointed out) and having quality day care options is essential.

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