Naperville college envisions health sciences facility on Little Friends site
North Central College's best prediction of its use for the Naperville historic district property now owned by the disability services agency Little Friends is that it could be a new hub for a graduate program in health sciences.
But college President Troy Hammond said the idea of a health sciences facility is preliminary as the college begins what it expects to be a yearlong process of buying the nearly 4-acre property two blocks east of its campus.
Hammond, along with others from North Central College and Little Friends CEO Mike Briggs, met Monday evening with about 60 neighbors of the institutions to share details about the pending land sale announced last month.
The college plans to buy the site at 140 N. Wright St. "to provide additional property that's near the campus to be able to expand," Hammond said.
Expansion of programs of study otherwise isn't possible on the 68.5-acre campus often described as a block wide and a mile long. The campus grew its scientific offerings with the March 2017 opening of the Dr. Myron Wentz Science Center, a $60 million, 125,000-square-foot facility. But spaces there already are claimed.
"Pretty much any other academic program that we look at requires academic space that we don't have," Hammond said.
The sale of the Little Friends land is contingent on North Central acquiring a new zoning designation of "college and university district" from the city of Naperville in a process Hammond said could take at least five months.
If it all goes through, the parties would close on the deal in January 2020 and Little Friends would move out in June 2020, at the end of the school year for its students with autism and developmental disabilities.
Briggs said Little Friends serves about 800 clients a year from about 51,000 square feet on its campus.
But the agency hopes to move in 2020 to a building at 27555 Diehl Road in Warrenville, now occupied by the Edward-Elmhurst Sleep Center. Moving there would provide about 71,000 square feet of indoor space to help the agency grow, Briggs said.
Neighbors of Little Friends and North Central primarily asked questions officials could not yet answer on Monday about future plans for new buildings on the site.
"I'm concerned about the way it will look and appear and how it will blend with the neighborhood," neighbor Elaine Piedra said.
Although the idea of a health sciences building is top on North Central's priority list, Hammond said it will have to wait for money to be available. Hammond said the college sees "nothing really that's salvageable and useful in those buildings" that occupy the Little Friends site now, and will have to construct anew.
Neighbors said they want a historic look to the buildings that will replace the former mansion and dorms on the site, along with curb appeal a step up from the landscaping Little Friends can afford to provide. They also say they want the college to be cognizant of parking issues, traffic, students walking to elementary schools and the presence of a park on the north end of the Little Friends site.
"I'm looking for something that's going to fit more into the neighborhood, instead of a big, huge parking lot," neighbor Mike Risley said about his thoughts for the land.
If the land sale is finalized, 2020 will actually become the second time North Central College has owned the site. The college bought it in 1945 and began using it for dorms, but started leasing it to Little Friends in 1975 and eventually sold it to the nonprofit organization in 1989.