By Jean Lotus
A new recreation center? Indoor gym? Classrooms for preschool? Offices for West Suburban Special Recreation Association? Citizens have proposed all of these uses and more for the Park District of Forest Park's newest acquisition: the now vacant 2.45 acre parcel at the corner of Harrison Street and Circle Avenue.
"We need to take the project back to the residents of Forest Park," Roy Sansone, park board president, said last March when the park district acquired the Roos property for $499,000.
The Park District of Forest Park Board of Commissioners and staff will be asking for resident ideas Thursday, Feb. 20 at its board meeting from 6-6:30 p.m.
When the district made its first offer on the factory building dating from 1919, plans for the structure included a teen program center, a preschool facility, a fitness room, multi-purpose classrooms, camp programs and a party room, along with offices and rooms to serve as headquarters for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.
There was also talk of the demolition of "Building #4" and replacement with a gymnasium.
The Park District passed a referendum in 2010 that increased taxes by 12 cents for every $100 of assessed property valuation to pay for the acquisition and remodeling of the property.
But exposure to the elements drove down the value of the three-story factory building to just its salvage materials. Now that the land is an empty lot, the park district wants to make sure they have citizen support for any construction plans, Director Larry Piekarz has said.
In September, the park district issued $3 million in bonds to go toward the Roos parcel. Borrowing money is more expensive since Moody's downgraded the Park District bond rating due to falling property values of Forest Park housing.
Reductions in equalized assessed value (EAV) have cost the district about $200,000 a year due to lower property tax values, park district financial analyst David Phillips of Speer Financial said.
This means there are fewer dollars to spend on the proposed park buildings -- if there are any built.
Piekarz and the district have applied for grants to help defray cleanup costs and pay for construction on the site. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency awards up to $200,000 for brownfields cleanup grant. A brownfield site is land previously used for commercial or industrial purposes which has been contaminated by low concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution. The EPA also awards up to $140,000 to assess the site.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources offers a Parks and Recreation Facility Construction (PARC) grant. Up to 75 percent of a new facility project's costs can be covered by the state of Illinois, Piekarz said.
But to apply for the PARC grant, an architect hired by the park district must develop a concept. That's where a resident wish-list comes into play.
In 2010 that wish list included an open grassy area, as well as a gazebo and picnic area, an amphitheatre for outdoor concerts and performances, a plaza with a fountain and benches, extended walking paths, garden plots for community gardening, an ADA compliant tot playground and a covered bicycle parking area for CTA commuters.
Whether all these amenities are still realistic is something the board will have to decide with help from the architect.
"There's money out there and Forest Park deserves it," Piekarz said in November.
The citizen comment will be accepted at the Feb. 20 meeting held on the 2nd floor of the Administrative Building, 7501 W. Harrison St. For more information, please call 708-366-7500.
The board will also welcome public comment at the March 20 board meeting, Piekarz said.