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Joliet project included in $45 million grant program

Photo courtesy of the State of Illinois and Harvey Tillis.
by Bob Okon for the Joliet Herald-News

JOLIET — A Joliet project was included in a $45 million government funding package announced Wednesday for improving early childhood education in Illinois.

The state will spend the money in the form of Early Childhood Construction Grants to fund construction and renovation at 14 locations.

In Joliet, $3.1 million will be spent to renovate the closed Parks Elementary School at Parks Avenue and Ohio Street.

The Joliet project has been in the works for more than a year, and it is expected to take another two years before the early learning center would open. This week, the Joliet City Council approved an intergovernmental agreement that will make it possible for the project to move forward.

Chicago-based One Hope United will acquire the building from the Joliet Grade School District.

“This really is going to be a great addition to the community,” Mark McHugh, executive director for One Hope United, told the city council this week. “Joliet in particular has a very high need for early childhood education for low-income families.”

McHugh estimated that the early learning center would open in spring 2015. He said the organization still needs to raise about $1 million to fund the project.

One Hope United is a child services group that started in 1895 as the Chicago Baptist Orphanage. The organization previously had a Joliet office for foster care services.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced the grants, saying in a written statement, “We know that investing in early childhood education is the best way to ensure lifelong success for our students.”

The grant money is part of the state’s “Illinois Jobs Now!” capital construction program.