Poised to become a hub of community life on the city’s West Side in addition to serving as a national example of the advantages of affordable “green buildings,” Bethel New Life’s Bethel Center, recently opened at Pulaski and Lake amidst much anticipation, after long postponement.

Representatives of Bethel New Life Center first got the idea to develop the center in 1993, during a community protest to stop the threatened discontinuation of the Green Line el by the CTA.

Eventually, the city provided the $380 million necessary to keep the line running, but soon afterward, the representatives were inspired by the protest to look into transit-oriented developments.

The $4.5-million project, which began development in January 2004 by the Bethel New Life Center, was funded in part by US Bank, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, LISC/Chicago and Illinois Clean Energy and Community Foundation.

“We looked at the Lake/Pulaski station and thought it would be a prime location to base a community center,” said Mary Nelson, president of Bethel New Life. “The project was slow going, however, as delays with funding greatly curtailed our progress. It took about eight years to go from its early conceptual stages to completed project.”

However, the Bethel Center was worth the wait, as it now houses a 160-child daycare center, an employment center that sees 500 prospective employees monthly and six commercial storefronts, two of which are still available for lease.

The Bethel Center is located at 4000 W. Lake St. The site, on the northwest corner of Pulaski and Lake, is next to the Green Line el stop and the Madison bus line. A bridge connects the el stop with the Bethel Center allowing pedestrians to directly enter the building. Bike racks are also located on site.

The center houses six retail spaces, and provides several critical services to area residents including: a day care center, an employment center with a computer lab, a dry cleaner, and a Subway sandwich shop. A financial service center will also arrive by year’s end as well, in partnership with First Bank of Oak Park.

The computer lab will allow patrons to search jobs on the Internet as well as house an upcoming computer class that will instruct them on the basics of computer software.

“I think the center will have an immediate impact on the economy in Austin,” said Holly Denniston, senior director of Real Estate Development for the project. “It will create many new jobs, both in the retail spaces and through the Internet job sites. Hopefully it will inspire other businesses to take a look at Austin and realize all the advantages to bringing business here.”

However, despite the various economic advantages of the center, its true uniqueness stems from its numerous environmental features, making it safe and energy efficient.

“There is a green roof, super-insulation, which will enable us to require less heat in the winter and solar-powered energy generators that provide lighting during the day, leaving us with a potential energy cost savings of 50 percent compared with average commercial buildings,” said Denniston.

All rooms have direct line of sight to the outside, made possible by using skylights, light wells and interior windows.

The green roof atop the center, where several cacti are also planted, allows for reduced storm water run-off and a decrease in heat absorption in the summer and heat loss in the winter. Moreover, according to the Bethel New Life website, at least 25 percent of all building materials used contain recycled content.

“The paint, carpets and wood products are all non-toxic as well,” said Denniston. “And 50 percent of the wood used on the project originated from forests grown and harvested using environmentally conscious methods.”