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St. Charles Park District unveils Baker Community Center renovations to public

Mar 22, 2017 12:15PM ● Published by Neighbors Magazines

The St. Charles Park District will hold a public open house on Thursday, April 13 from 10 am to 5 pm to celebrate the completion of renovations to the Baker Community Center.

Construction to upgrade the facilities began in the summer of 2016 and was completed in February of this year, according to Holly Cabel, Director of Parks and Recreation. 

“Our goal was to make the building more accessible and inviting for our patrons and guests,” said Cabel.

This included the installation of an elevator to allow access to all building levels; an upgraded air conditioning system for the first and second floors; ADA-compliant bathrooms on all levels; renovated kitchen facilities; reconstructed entry access to an outdoor terrace; a pergola awning over the east ramp entrance; and flooring, carpeting, and storage upgrades.

“These improvements allow us to accommodate more functions and events than we’ve been able to in the past,” said Cabel.  “An attractive east-side ramp access and elevator service throughout the building is important to people coping with mobility challenges and makes the building more functional for caterers or vendors who need to bring in equipment or other large goods,” said Cabel.

The park district worked in collaboration with the Henry Rockwell Baker Memorial Community Center Board of Trustees to design and implement the renovations.  The renovations committee consisted of Tom Anderson, John Collins and Dan Marshall, who began planning the project in August, 2015, and met twice a month to oversee each aspect of the design and construction.

“Tom has pushed us along and kept it on track,” said Dan Marshall.  “There has been a tremendous amount of momentum.”

The building was dedicated in May, 1926, as a “living memorial” from Mr. and Mrs. Edward J. Baker to their son, Henry Rockwell Baker, and to veterans of World War I.  Planned as a central meeting place for civic events and educational and entertainment programs, the Baker Community Center has been funded for the last 90 years by the Edward J. Baker Foundation Trust, according to Anderson.

“Our local Baker Community Center board has been the custodians of that trust to keep the building in good condition,” said Anderson.  “The time was right to do these renovations.”

As befitting a cornerstone of the St. Charles community with deep historic significance, the team of professionals tasked with developing the design and completing the construction all have their own deep ties to the city and the Baker Community Center.  Anderson and Marshall chose Kluber Architects +Engineers of Batavia to design the renovations.  The company’s founder, Michael Kluber, grew up in St. Charles.  Kluber Inc. was joined by Schramm Construction Corporation, JL Wagner Plumbing & Piping, and Rehm Electric Shop, all of St. Charles. 

“What is interesting is that the Wagner and Rehm companies worked on the original construction of the building 90 years ago,” said Anderson.  “We were very pleased to have local contractors working on the building, and I think they were all excited to do it because they are local businesses and this is a classic building for our community.”

Keeping the historic character of an iconic building was a key goal in the project’s design and completion. 

“We wanted to create and preserve the character of the building,” said Anderson.  To that end, the original millwork was duplicated and the distinctive animal-motif molding was preserved.  The first floor lobby was enlarged and enhanced by the addition of two ADA-compliant restrooms.  A vestibule was added to provide access to the Melvin Peterson Lounge, which can function as either a closed meeting room or be opened to the adjacent auditorium to increase the room’s marketability for wedding receptions and other large group functions.

But perhaps the biggest change to the first floor lobby area is the access to the terrace through French doors at the back of the lobby. 

“The terrace was under-utilized, which is a shame, because it is a real asset,” said Marshall.  “Once we had the vision to open the lobby to the terrace, it helped drive our concept of what the rest of the building should be.”

Of course, in a renovation project of this size in a building that dates back nearly a century, the committee realized a few surprises would be in store.  The original space that housed projection equipment to show movies in the Baker Community Center was uncovered during renovations..  “It’s still there behind the office wall,” said Cabel.  The installation of the elevator shaft required an 18-inch excavation into bedrock.  “That’s not all that unusual in this area,” said Marshall.  But the committee gained an entirely new appreciation for the work the original construction crew must have done to install the swimming pool that Mr. Baker included when the building was constructed in 1926.  “We wondered how he got all that rock out of here,” said Anderson.  “A lot of digging went on in that original work.”

Once the weather cooperates, the committee has future plans to complete an East Garden, which will include a plaza area with seating and public art, and an ADA-compliant walk way to connect the building to the parking lot on the southwest corner.

“It’s a gem of a building,” said Anderson.  “We’ve polished it into a jewel.”

For more information about the Baker Community Center Open House, contact the St. Charles Park District at 630-584-1055.

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