Bank Transforms into Waukegan Park District Administrative Center
Waukegan Park District headquarters retrofit saves costs, ends congestion, and creates park-like setting
Walking into Waukegan (Illinois) Park District’s new Administrative Center is much like walking into a park. Many Waukegan residents who attended the ribbon cutting and open house in early September found it hard to believe that this same space was once a bank lobby.
The adaptive reuse project, designed by Legat Architects and built by Reed Construction, converted a two-story bank into a headquarters where park district staff oversee the district’s 49 parks and 2 golf courses.
For decades, park district administrative employees were holed up in a 6,000-square-foot maintenance garage converted into offices. The 50-year-old building was inefficient and too small to meet district needs.
At 17,000 square feet, the new facility does away with the overcrowding and refreshes the organization’s image. Moreover, Waukegan Park District sped up construction and reduced costs by reusing much of the layout and furnishings in the old bank.
“The staff love it,” said Waukegan Park District Executive Director Jay Lerner. “It’s a completely different atmosphere and they don’t miss the old office at all.”
Swinging into Style
When he was appointed park district leader in spring of 2017, Lerner took on the challenge of steering the Administrative Center retrofit. One of his goals was to create a vibrant main lobby to welcome the public, energize staff, and reflect the park district’s identity.
Lerner and his staff worked with Legat’s designers to convert the bank lobby into a showcase space with a park-like feel: colorful seating areas, photo murals that display park district activities, and carpet that resembles pebbles in some areas and grass in others. But the true centerpiece is the area where five stationary swings hang from the ceiling.
“When people walk in, they think, ‘This is cool, this is fun,’” said Lerner. “They know we’re in the park business.” Lerner also said that the lobby is open to staff who wish to bring their laptops and work “millennial-style.”
Larger, More Flexible Board Room
The board room in the previous facility was not so much a board room as it was an open space in which employees were “shoved into a corner,” according to Lerner. During meetings, board members could hear copiers in adjacent offices. Worse yet, employees leaving for the day had to walk through the board room . . . often during board meetings.
The new first-floor board room not only quadruples the size of its predecessor, but it also carries through the energetic feel of the lobby. One wall shows a collage of park district activities. The opposite wall displays a large map with Lake Michigan (borders Waukegan on the east) and all the park district’s properties. The renovation retains the bank’s drive-through windows to bring in daylight.
The board room also gives the district much more flexibility—since all furniture is on wheels, personnel can quickly rearrange chairs and tables for staff development or community events.
Same Footprint, New Feel
On the second floor, the design relies heavily on reuse of the existing office footprint and furnishings, but also spices up the space with new carpeting and brighter colors.
Felt wall and ceiling slats and thin strips of light surround a small waiting area separated from the offices by glass walls wrapped in a film that shows the profile of trees.
The conference room, despite changing little, is a welcome addition for park district staff. Stacey Jozefiak, human resources and payroll specialist, said, “Before, we always had to travel to do new hire orientations and coworkers would have to listen because there was no separate area. Now we have a spacious dedicated conference room with a monitor instead of having to carry around a laptop.”
The lower level includes a break area for employees, the mechanical system, IT equipment, and two more conference rooms for staff training. It also offers plenty of storage . . . even the old vault is used for storage.
The Big Time
For over 100 years, residents of Illinois’ tenth largest city have benefited from the Waukegan Park District’s emphasis on exceptional parks, recreational programs, and cultural events. Throughout that time and especially during the last decade, the district has received many awards for its sensible handling of budgets.
“The new Administrative Center represents both our passion for what we do and our financial prudence,” said Lerner. “It also shows the staff who work so hard to fulfill our mission that we’ve finally graduated to the big time.”
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