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Voluntary Action Center ready to spread its wings

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013 9:45 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Bursaw – Shaw Media)
Marianne Egland puts out donated baked goods for volunteers driving Meals on Wheels routes while working around the red meal bags waiting to be picked up by drivers the Voluntary Action Center in Sycamore, Ill. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012.

DeKALB – The DeKalb County Volunteer Action Center could begin work on a $15 million facility this summer that would allow it to offer expanded bus service, including a shuttle to the Elburn Metra Station.

Tom Zucker, executive director of the center, said the agency is close to beginning plans for a 83,000-square-foot facility near the intersection of Peace and County Farm roads. The county has authorized 12 acres of land for the agency’s use and multiple grants have been identified, Zucker said.

The facility would be more than six times the size of the existing 13,000-square-foot operation.

The increasing demand for services such as Meals on Wheels, transportation to Kishwaukee College and stops at more than 80 locations on DeKalb and Sycamore bus routes have made expansion a necessity, Zucker said.

“We’ve known here the facilities have been overcrowded for several years,” Zucker said. “Ultimately, the size of facilities we’re able to build will depend on our ability to raise funds.”

VAC has provided public and community transportation services for 38 years, starting in 1974 when it gave 7,111 rides. The organization provided 208,196 rides last year. During the years of increasing demand, the agency has operated out of a building that opened in 1988 and was built to house about 25 vehicles, not the 41 in the current fleet.

To fund the expansion, Zucker said he has worked with county and city leaders to pursue state and federal grants that would require no local matching funds. DeKalb has received a $2 million Federal Transit Administration grant that will go toward the project, and both the city and county hope to receive a $3 million Illinois Department of Transportation grant, which would account for $8 million of the $15 million needed.

Zucker said he is confident VAC could make up the balance through federal grants as a lobbyist with the State Transportation Association is working at no cost to VAC to secure money for the project in the highway bill.

“We only targeted grants that do not require local matching funds because most local governments would be hard-pressed to step up and provide that,” Zucker said.

After some debate about how much land the county should dedicate to the project, DeKalb County Board members agreed to give the full 12 acres, so VAC can present a more complete plan in grant applications and have room for future expansion.

County Board member Jeffery Metzger, R-Sandwich, said he has seen how important the transportation services have become to the entire county and did not want to limit any expansion.

“I would hate to limit the land to limit your ideas and your visions,” he said.

Zucker’s vision includes an expanded fleet and expanded kitchen that serves Meals on Wheels, senior centers, day care centers and the county jail. The main addition would be a park-and-ride service to offer shuttles to the Elburn Metra Station every day.

Only the Huskie Bus Line offers rides to the Elburn station, and only on Fridays and Sundays.

“It’s been needed for a long time,” Zucker said. “It would be our intent to complement the service Huskie Line is providing.”

Zucker said he would likely know about the status of the IDOT grant applications in January and the federal grants shortly after. If all goes to plan, work could begin in early summer or the project could be divided into two phases.

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