MorningStar Mission wants to open childcare center at former Joliet YMCA building

MorningStar’s executive director says she hopes to open childcare center next spring

smith family ymca, joliet, will county

Joliet’s MorningStar Mission plans to open a childcare center in the former Smith Family YMCA on Briggs Street.

MorningStar Executive Director Sandra Perzee said her agency closed on the property last Friday. It purchased the building from the YMCA for a little over $3 million, she said.

Perzee said MorningStar wanted to “utilize the building to the best of our abilities” which her team determined was to offer affordable childcare to the community, something it does not currently offer.

“The one component that’s sorely lacking is affordable daycare,” she said.

Perzee added MorningStar also wants to offer after school programs in partnership with the YMCA.

In addition, she said, MorningStar won’t be using the pool at the property and hasn’t decided how to use the green space around the building. Perzee said her team has discussed potentially using the space as a community garden.

Since the sale of the building is done, Perzee said MorningStar is in talks with the state government to earn certification to offer childcare services and so it would be eligible to receive state funds.

Perzee said MorningStar will also have to get a special use permit from the city of Joliet to reopen the facility for childcare. She added her agency hopes to get that permit from the city next month.

While MorningStar will use the existing building on the property, Perzee said it needs some remodeling. Depending on how that construction goes, she said MorningStar hopes to reopen the facility sometime next spring.

MorningStar’s disclosure of its work to take over the former Smith Family building comes about three months after the Joliet Area YMCA said it would not pursue an option to sell the property to the Will County government.

County officials proposed converting the 28,000-square-foot building into a food hub to sell fresh produce from local farmers and build a kitchen which could be used for a food preparation and training program. They also wanted to build housing for veterans through the county’s Veterans Assistance Commission on the rest of the property.

smith family ymca, joliet, will county

The county argued its use was ideal because the area surrounding the property has the county’s highest rates of poverty and limited food access.

The Greater Joliet YMCA announced last February it would close the Smith Family building which had been serving Joliet residents since 1978. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, former YMCA President Jim Watts said his agency served about 1,300 children per day, mostly through childcare and before and after school programs.

The agency has since moved its services to its other facilities throughout the city.

Katy Leclair, the president and CEO of the Joliet Area YMCA, said in a statement that MorningStar Mission has a long history in the area and she is confident the agency will “continue to flourish and make a significant impact in its new location.”

“At the YMCA, our mission lives within the hearts of our members, volunteers, and employees, and we know that the spirit of the Smith Family YMCA will live on in our programs for generations to come,” Leclair said.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.