Work begins on $4.5 million Nicarico center
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com July 17, 2012 3:06PM
Pat and Tom Nicarico (at right) shake hands with Terry Haliw (left) as they are introduced by former State's Attorney and current appelate judge Joe Birkett prior to a groundbreaking ceremony at the future home of the Jeanine Nicarico Children's Advocacy Center on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Haliw, currently a Roselle police officer, will become an investigator at the center once it is complete, which was named in the memory of the Nicarico's daughter who was murdered in 1983. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 19, 2012 6:09AM
The memory of Jeanine Nicarico was rendered a little more indelible Tuesday morning in Wheaton.
Family members of the Naperville 10-year-old, who was abducted and slain nearly 30 years ago, were among about 100 people who came out in the morning’s near-three-digit temperatures for a ground-breaking ceremony on DuPage County’s governmental campus.
Nestled among trees just west of a small lake and south of the railroad tracks that arch over County Farm Road is the future new home of the Jeanine Nicarico Children’s Advocacy Center and the DuPage County Family Center.
Now housed in a squat, aging glass building southeast of the new site, the DuPage County Children’s Advocacy Center helps kids who have been the victims of sexual abuse and severe physical violence, and facilitates prosecutions. Now operating out of rented storefront space in downtown Wheaton, the Family Center serves as a neutral exchange site and provides mediation and other services for families experiencing parental separation and divorce.
The $5.37 million project, to be built by John Burns Construction Co. of Orland Park, celebrates the impact left by the little girl at the center of one of the county’s most notorious and troubled crimes.
“Today is about Jeanine Nicarico and her legacy,” said County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, addressing a group that included state office holders, county dignitaries, staff members, judicial officials and Jeanine’s sisters and parents, Tom and Pat Nicarico, who now live in South Carolina.
Pat Nicarico concurred with speakers who described the victim of the brutal crime as cheerful and loving. She said the center is a wonderful and fitting way to honor her daughter’s memory.
“I really feel the spirit here, watching over the children and protecting them,” she said.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Bob Berlin — whose predecessor Joe Birkett came under fire after the protracted prosecution of Jeanine’s murder wrongly sent two men to several years on Death Row — welcomed the project launch, but said the work remains formidable.
“Unfortunately, despite the aggressive prosecution of these crimes, the volume of these cases coming to the center has continued to rise,” Berlin said.
He said the facility will be a fitting legacy for Jeanine.
“I cannot think of a better way to pay tribute to Jeanine Nicarico, a beautiful little girl who was taken from us far too early,” Berlin said in a press release. “While we are here today celebrating this new center committed to improving the lives of young victims of sexual and physical abuse, we must not forget that it was a terrible tragedy committed nearly 30 years ago that brings us here today. We must not forget Jeanine.”
Pat Dempsey, the center’s director, noted with a hint of irony that the air conditioning in the current facility wasn’t functioning Tuesday morning. He said he and his staff are pleased that they’ll have soon a new workplace.
“All our investigative case managers are looking forward to working in the new building,” Dempsey said. “It’ll help, because we’re busy.”
The new center is particularly near and dear to Naperville resident Jim Healy, a County Board member who also sits on the Friends of the Children’s Advocacy Center board. Speakers at the ground breaking repeatedly commended Healy’s unwavering dedication to seeing the project to fruition.
“Jim Healy has been a tireless advocate for this project,” Cronin said.
Discussion of the new headquarters has stretched over the past 6 1/2 years, Healy said.
“I think the board’s done a great job at shepherding this through over time,” he said.
Although initial plans called for the center to be in its own building, the agency’s weekday daytime schedule appeared “completely simpatico” with that of the Family Center, which sees most of its activity on weekends and very early on weekday mornings.
“From a logistics standpoint, it was great usage of that space,” said Healy.
The arrangement meant fewer parking spaces would be needed overall, he said, and centralized meeting spaces in the new building could serve multiple functions.
Instead of the $3 million originally estimated for the advocacy center, the price grew to around $4.5 million with the Family Center added in. Infrastructure upgrades, including a new ring road encircling the site, will have uses beyond the two specific agencies, Healy said.
“We were of a mind that since we’re doing this now, it’s a good time to bite the bullet over this,” he said.
Meanwhile, officials reworked some of the initial vision to shift much of the hands-on work to existing county employees. That adjustment pared about $500,000 from the project’s expected cost.
Healy said he also intends to seek “private money” for additional enhancements, such as a playground that is suited to the gentle sort of therapeutic counseling young crime victims need. He hopes to secure a multi-year commitment from the Naperville Exchange Club, of which he is a member, and to tap major local employers such as Navistar, McDonald’s and Tellabs, to help offset some of those costs.
“The work’s never done,” Healy said. “You just move on to the next phase of something.”