Monday, April 8, 2013

Safe, energy efficient, self-sustaining.  Those are some of the words and phrases linked to future plans for Rockford's Fairgrounds Housing Complex and Ellis Heights neighborhoods.

That could become reality with the help of a federal grant, an ambitious Rockford Housing Authority and a handful of University of Illinois architecture students.

If half the ideas and concepts shared by the architect students are used within the "Choice Neighborhoods" grant project, Rockford's west side could see more early education facilities, new stores and mixed-income housing.  But that's not all.

"Part of the design work that the U of I students have done incorporates crime reduction measures," said Ron Clewer, RHA CEO.

Fairgrounds and its surrounding area are known for crime.  That's being addressed as students basically rebuild the neighborhood from the ground up.  It's also something the Rockford Housing Authority is focused on now.

"We've also worked very close with the police department and other community partners to work to reduce the crime," said Clewer.

College of Architecture students from the University of Illinois are on their third trip to Rockford.  The next time they're face to face with RHA leaders will be when the final drafts are complete.

"We're focusing on the entire City of Rockford and we notice there's about 500 vacant and abandoned lots in the neighborhood," said one student.  "So we came up with the idea to come up with four different prototypes for buildings for homes that could be inserted into those abandoned and vacant lots."

Students are incorporating concepts like family centers, education, even a new marketplace complete with retail stores in the plans.

But for some a semester's worth of work isn't enough stacked up next to years of blight and poverty.

"It's too bad they've only had a semester to work with it so they can't work out the idea further to make it, make it better," said Becky Kendall, Executive Director of Rockford Health Council.

The RHS does have the grant.  In fact, the agency earned it back in 2011.  CEO Ron Clewer says he hopes to see groundbreaking within the next two years.  That grant is for $300,000.