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DuPage County Honors Jeanine Nicarico

UPDATED 11/23/10 - 12:33 p.m.

WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) - DuPage County officials are honoring Jeanine Nicarico, the 10-year-old Naperville girl who was brutally raped and killed in 1983, by naming a new children's center after her.

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The DuPage County state's attorney's office is opening a new, larger children's center to investigate cases of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse against kids and to work with children who witness violent crimes.

On Tuesday, the County Board approved a new name for the place: The Jeanine Nicarico Children's Advocacy Center.

Jeanine was abducted from her home in February 1983, sexually assaulted and murdered. After nearly three decades, two wrongful convictions and a series of missteps by police and prosecutors, convicted killer Brian Dugan last year confessed and was sentenced to die for the crimes.

Now situated in a cramped space across from the county's administration complex on County Farm Road, the Children's Advocacy Center is where kids go to talk with investigators and caseworkers about their experiences as victims of sexual assaults or severe physical abuse.

After looking at their options, officials considered the possibility of upgrading the center, formerly home to the county's transportation department, but decided earlier this year to move ahead on the new site instead.

County Board member Jim Healy, who lives in Naperville and has served on the center's board for a dozen years, said putting the new building on the fast track saved county taxpayers the $500,000 that would have gone into upgrades on the current site.

Slated for undeveloped property on the northwest side of the county property, the building will cover about 12,000 square feet and has a construction budget of no more than $3 million.

The project will be financed with revenue from ticket surcharges that the county has set aside in a fund earmarked for the purpose.

The board two months ago also applied for $500,000 in block grant funds to accelerate the project. If the grant is approved, the county will have $1.1 million on hand for the new center.

"We're roughly at about half of what we need, so we may do some creative financing," said Healy, who noted that any short-term loan would amount to an advance on the ticket income.

An architectural firm is at work on plans now.

"Staff thinks (construction) will begin by July. I think it'll be by May, but I'm very impatient," said Healy, who has been pushing for the new site for the past seven years.

Move-in is expected in late 2011 or early 2012, he said.

In addition to the children's center, the building will be used for mutual exchanges — neutral turf where former spouses can bring their kids at the start and end of visitation with the non-custodial parent. The exchanges, now done in rented space in downtown Wheaton that costs $90,000 annually, generally take place in evenings and on weekends, while the children's center is busy on weekdays.

"It's an absolute perfect match for the two of them," Healy said.

Because of his longtime connection to the project, State's Attorney Joe Birkett sought Healy's opinion when he was considering the new name.

"I thought it was a very good idea. He said he had talked to the Nicarico family, and I thought it was a very fitting tribute," he said.

"I'm very glad to see that it's named after her. That means it means something."

-- The Naperville Sun contributed to this story, via the Sun-Times Media Wire

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