A Baby Boom in Chicago’s Suburbs
GRAYSLAKE, Ill. (AP) _ The strollers start lining up outside the Grayslake Area Public Library a few minutes before it opens at 10 a.m.
Within an hour, the children’s section is teeming with tots flipping pages as they sit on their mothers’ laps, assembling puzzles or sitting in on story time.
The library’s story session _ one of the few children’s activities in town that doesn’t require registration _ is a haven for parents in Grayslake, a village where the under-18 population more than tripled from 1990 to 2000.
Of the country’s 281 million Americans, about one in every four _ 72.3 million _ are under 18. But the group grew by only 13 percent since 1990, slower than that of the over-30 crowd.
Chicago’s fast-growing suburbs are bucking that trend and then some.
The number of children in Grayslake grew 228 percent, from 1,869 in 1990 to 6,127 in 2000. Children make up 26 percent of Illinois’ overall population, but the under-18 set accounts for one-third of Grayslake.
``I just can’t believe the number of strollers and what all I see around town,″ said Kurtis Anderson, superintendent of Community Consolidated School District 46 in Grayslake, 40 miles north of Chicago.
The district, which serves children from kindergarten through eighth grade, built a new elementary school five years ago and is breaking ground next month on another. The district just opened a building for fifth- and sixth-grade students and expects to need another school by 2005.
The story is similar throughout the city’s teeming suburbs, where school districts have even set up classroom trailers while waiting for new schools to be built.
``To get into any park district programs, you have to get there right away because they fill up,″ said Amy Sarachman, a Grayslake mother with a 4-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. ``The schools are just way overcrowded.″
Almost 300,000 more people under age 18 are living in Illinois today than were a decade ago. Chicago-area counties _ Cook, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, Will and Kane _ account for the bulk of that growth.
The population of children in Illinois as a whole grew by 10 percent between 1990 and 2000. That rate ranged from 17 percent to 47 percent in the five counties surrounding Cook County, which contains Chicago.
Sarachman said available jobs, good schools and comparatively low housing prices have drawn many families to her area. But communities such as Grayslake were unprepared for that growth, she said, and until recently had little for children to do.
The city just built a family aquatics center with a pool and water slide. Sarachman said she has to arrive a half-hour early for a chance at getting in before they cut off admissions.
Day care centers in the suburbs also have grown increasingly crowded, and many have started waiting lists, said Barbara Haley, executive director of the Child Care Coalition of Lake County.
``It is particularly difficult to find high-quality, affordable infant and toddler care,″ Haley said.
The number of licensed centers in Lake County grew from 113 in 1990 to 175 this year, she said. Those centers now serve about 15,000 children _ 5,300 more than they did in 1990.
Young families or couples drawn by jobs also are having more babies in the suburbs. Joliet added 10,134 children to its population rolls from 1990 to 2000 _ a 48 percent increase.
Peggy Gricus, director of maternal/child nursing at Joliet’s Silver Cross Hospital, barely has time for a phone call between deliveries.
``We’re just seeing a baby boom out here,″ Gricus said.
The hospital saw a 19.2 percent increase in deliveries last year and just opened a new labor, delivery and recovery unit.
Cathy Pitts, who brought her 4-month old daughter Shannon and 3-year-old daughter Ashley to the Grayslake Library on Wednesday, can think of one big benefit to the suburban baby boom.
``We look out our front door and Ashley has 10 playmates,″ she said.
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