Daycare owner Ruth Kimble already has visions of what she would like to do if she acquires a vacant lot behind her center on the corner of Division and Waller.
She would like to see a basketball court, a sitting area, a bigger jungle gym with a slide, and an even bigger playhouse for her 70 kids ages 2 to 12.
Kimble wants to expand her Channing’s Childcare Academy, 5701 W. Division, onto the vacant property. The expansion will allow Kimble to accommodate children eligible for Chicago Public Schools’ new “pre-school for all” initiative.
“We just need more room…” said Kimble, who has a waiting list of 40 kids.
Kimble is banking that the property at 1144 N. Waller will go into foreclosure and then become part of the city’s “dollar-a-lot” program. In March, the city approved the sale of city-owned land in certain South Side neighborhoods for just one dollar. The vacant lots were acquired through property tax and demolition liens.
But Kimble’s vision, and hopes, in getting the property under that program might be a long way off. There are several variables and a lengthy legal process before the North Waller property becomes part of the city’s inventory, Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) said.
The city tore down the two-flat building on that site in March. The city has 180 days from the tear-down date to place a demolition lien on the land to recoup its cost for knocking down the structure. The Waller lot remains privately owned. The site has been cited numerous times by the city for a range of violations, including trash in yard, rotted and broken windows, and stagnant water in the basement.
Graham noted the city could take the owners to court to foreclose on the demolition lien, but that process has not happened yet. When the case does come to court, the judge will give the owners time to pay off the lien and can only foreclose on the property if the owners default, according to Graham.
The entire process, she added, could take up to two years before the property is part of the city’s inventory. By that time, Graham noted that the $1 a lot program may have run its course, if the program even comes to Austin.
“There is a possibility that it may come to Austin, but Austin is not riddled with vacant property the way Englewood, East Garfield or Lawndale for that matter,” Graham said. “There is a possibility, but we are going to be evaluating that.”
Graham said she supports Kimble’s efforts to turn vacant property into something useful for the entire community. Graham, however, encourages Kimble to negotiate with the owner to purchase the land privately.
“Until it reaches the city’s inventory there is nothing we can do but take it through its process and the judge basically controls that process,” Graham said.
“That’s on the table to see which direction we are going in,” Kimble says in response.
And she maintains that even if the dollar-a-lot program may not be available to her, other childcare providers can take advantage of the program. But it was a 7-year struggle just to get the Waller building torn down, she recalled.
The two-flat sat abandoned and boarded up, becoming an eyesore to the community and a security concern for Kimble. The building, she said, was falling apart and a lot of drug activity occurred near the property.
“Everything you don’t want to be around a daycare, period,” said Kimble, a daycare operator for 18 years. “We are trying to have a safe place for our kids …. Nobody wants to see people standing around a daycare selling drugs.”
Getting the lot, she adds, will increase her play area by more than half and give the neighborhood much needed green space.
Parent Lenita Edgeworth, whose 8-year-old daughter has attended Channing’s since 2009, is glad to see the building go, concerned herself about the trash and unsavory characters hanging around there. Edgeworth, who lives in the West Loop, is now concerned about something happening to the lot.
“They need a bigger playlot where all the kids are comfortable,” she said.