The CEDA Oak Park Head Start program recently got a new director. But it’s still looking for a building to house its operations.

Babette Jackson was named the Head Start center director Aug. 23. She replaces former Director Marylee Doden, who left for another position. Jackson has 25 years of experience in the Early Childhood field, including as a teacher and in management at several Head Start centers, most recently as deputy director of Evanston/Skokie CC School District 65 Head Start. She was also a senior official for Child Care for YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Jackson could not be reached for comment.

The Head Start program, which provides a wide range of educational, health, nutrition and counseling services to young children and their parents in Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, has long operated with the assistance of generous supporters. Currently at 44 W. Madison St., it must move after the 2006-07 school year, and is seeking classroom and office space in one of the three villages.

That’s a reprieve from an earlier deadline. Before last June, Park National Bank, which owns the property, thought it would need the building for its own use this fall. That changed in June, when bank officials determined their space needs were less immediate, and Head Start officials were given an extra year to find a new space.

“Several months ago we were scrambling to find alternative space,” said David Weindling, who is the donor services director of the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation.

A coalition of organizations and individuals is seeking possible new locations that have adequate space for the program. Head Start operates two 17-pupil classrooms in both morning and afternoon sessions. Its total space needs are 4,000 to 5,000 square feet, with classrooms needing to be on the ground floor. In addition, the program needs outdoor play space that is fenced in, or nearby park space that meets basic safety standards for small children.

It’s hoped that the program can secure a site by January or February at the latest, allowing adequate time for any needed renovations prior to the new school year.

Weindling said more affluent areas like Oak Park and River Forest-and now, increasingly, Forest Park-make it a challenge to secure affordable facilities for such programs.

“It’s a challenge to find space in Oak Park with [Head Start’s] budget constraints,” said Weindling.

Noting that “the community has been fortunate that a space has been donated over the years,” Weindling said he is hoping that will happen once again.

“We’re spreading the word out to everyone we can, to everyone we can think of,” he said. As part of that effort, the Community Foundation has contacted the Oak Park Development Corp., and area real estate leasing agent David King. The foundation has also discussed its needs with officials at District 97 and the Park District of Oak Park.

Anyone interested in assisting in the search can contact David Weindling at 848-1560, or Babette Jackson at 848-6476.

Head Start infrastructure needs

  • Two classrooms, at least 600 square feet each
  • Outdoor play area or large indoor play area approximately 1,300 square feet
  • Minimum of 500 square feet for administrative offices 
  • Parent room and/or work room

Kitchen

  • Bathrooms, including separate children’s facilities
  • Storage

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