Thursday evening the River Forest Development Review Board unanimously voted to recommend approval of a plan by Dominican University to establish a new early childhood education center on the university’s Priory campus.

Dominican plans to completely gut and renovate an existing maintenance garage in the northwest corner of the Priory campus which is located at 7200 W. Division.

The current early childhood center is located in the basement of the Albertus Magnus Science Building, located on Dominican’s main campus. The science building, a 1 story building constructed in 1958, is slated for demolition in May of 2006 and will be replaced by a parking garage, according to Amy McCormack, Dominican’s vice president of Business Affairs. The total interior space of the new early childhood education center will be 6,850 square feet and Dominican will only use the shell of the existing structure according to McCormack.

“The entire inside will be new construction,” said McCormack. “It’s an opportunity to utilize an existing building.

The new center’s construction will be funded by a gift from John Goedert of River Forest who is making the gift in memory of his wife Rose, a former school teacher.

The new early childhood education center will have five classrooms and be designed for a capacity of 92 children, age 2-5. The existing center has six classrooms and a capacity of 114 children. In 2006-07, Dominican will eliminate its program for half-day kindergarten students, according to Sister Colleen McNicholas, dean of the School of Education.

There will be big improvements to the new center, McCormack said. These include observation rooms between the classrooms. These soundproof rooms will have separate entrances and be used by students in Dominican’s program in early childhood education, as well as parents and prospective clients. The new classrooms will also each have a separate adjacent small outdoor play area.

70 percent of the children who are enrolled in Dominican’s child care center are from Oak Park and River Forest according to McCormack.

“We view this as outreach to the community,” McCormack said.

At the meeting, concerns were expressed by a few neighbors about increased traffic in the area. The Development Review Board’s next step is to approve the findings of fact review which is currently being undertaken by the village attorney.

McCormack said that she hopes to win final approval for the project by the village board in August.

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