Bethel Center

Job Training and Day Care on Chicago’s West Side

Chicago’s west side has seen virtually unrelenting disinvestment, both public and private, for the past 50 years. Bethel New Life has been one of the few entities fighting to change things. This building represents only the most aggressive and visible of their efforts which include new for-sale housing, senior housing, job training, child care services, and other programs. Perhaps most significant, Bethel helped to organize a coalition to save the public transit service to the area, retaining access to jobs and other city resources. Begun over 10 years ago as a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) development, the project was taken on by Bethel when the CTA chose to abandon it. An important design objective was to demonstrate the value of sustainable design in a visual way.

Transit-Oriented Development

The project focused on the Triple Bottom Line (environment, economy, equity) before anyone in Chicago was using that phrase. Its central concept is to reinstate transit-oriented development (TOD) at a key node in the neighborhood.

Rooftop view of "L" train. PV cornice, and just-planted green roof.

TOD helps reduce congestion and improve air quality while providing transit-friendly retail and services for neighborhood residents.

The Bethel Commercial Center incorporates a bridge to the adjacent elevated rapid transit station. Parents can easily take their kids to the second floor daycare center while on the way to work. Trainees have easy access to sessions at the job center. And ground-floor retail provides the first new stores the area has seen in years.

LEED Gold Design

In addition, the building is designed to exceed the LEED Gold level. Fundamental strategies include aggressive daylight harvesting, a tight building envelope, and an emphasis on indoor air quality. Designed to use 50% less energy than conventional construction, the building also generates 15% of it own power on-site. Key green elements include:

  • innovative thin-shell reinforced concrete sandwich exterior wall w/insulation value nearly double that required by code.
  • green roof visible from passing transit trains that will reduce storm water runoff and help the roof last up to 60 years (versus typical 15).
  • eco-elevator projected to save $2000 to $4000 annually compared to conventional hydraulic.
  • light shelves and skylights combined with  fluorescent fixtures that automatically dim when natural light is available.
  • low-emitting paints, sealants, composite wood, and carpet to reduce environmental toxins.
  • high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment including.
  • multi-functioning photovoltaic cornice: it shades the facade from sun and “tops” the building while generating electricity.

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