NORMAL — Sally Heffernan likes to imagine a triangle of destinations for youths in uptown Normal.

"We've got a focus on learning through many different types of children's activities at the CDM (Children's Discovery Museum); we've got the library, which has a wide variety of children's programming; and now we've got a focus on children's art," she said. "It's a great fit. Families will love it."

The art piece of that triangle is Illinois Art Station (IAS), a studio, gallery and learning space slated to move from Illinois State University's Williams Hall to the first floor of the College Avenue Parking Deck next year.

IAS Director Isra El-beshir said she envisions a place for youths, especially those who are at-risk and developmentally disabled, to visit, learn and grow. She said the space will include a public gallery for children's art, and she imagines being able to see IAS' bright colors and lights from CDM.

IAS started forming in 2016 and held its first classes last year under Laura Berk, a retired ISU psychology professor, who's the organization's founding donor and president of its fundraising foundation. The foundation plans to pump $1.5 million to $2 million into the space for a March 2020 opening.

"One of (the space's) advantages is being this empty rectangle that architects can do some wonderful things with," said Berk. "It's very central in terms of transportation from all parts of this community. We want children and families to be able to get here, and we want more of them coming to uptown so that uptown can become the diverse place everybody wants it to be."

Berk said ISU has been a great partner in IAS, including providing undergraduate and graduate students for partnerships, and will continue to work with the organization. The foundation's board includes two other retired ISU leaders, Steve Lancaster in facilities and Rick Lewis in administration.

IAS has one other full-time worker, Education Curator Peggy Finnegan-Boyes.

Heffernan, the town's economic development director, said IAS approached the town last fall about finding a home in uptown, and 12,000 undeveloped square feet at the deck proved a good fit. The town advertised the space for development this winter and had only one response, from IAS.

Because IAS is building out a town-owned space, said Heffernan, it's likely the town will forgive some or all of its rent to make up the difference. The town and IAS are still negotiating terms.

Berk and El-beshir attended Monday's meeting of Normal City Council, which has not yet signed off on a proposal.

In other business, the council:

Normal plans to spend $25,000 per year on the grant and limit each homeowner to one award up to $4,000 in one year. Homeowners can apply to Normal's Historic Preservation Commission; awards require a 50-50 match.

• Approved three new appointments to town boards and commissions: Jason Coffman, a Normal mechanical engineer, to Building Board of Appeals; Zachary Boerger, a Normal Realtor, to Historic Preservation Commission; and Elise Albers, a Normal population health manager, to the Children's Discovery Museum Foundation board.

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Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh


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