By Tom Holmes
The groundbreaking ceremony for construction of the Park District of Forest Park Family Recreation Center on the former Roos property will be held on Saturday, April 1 at 10 a.m.
Larry Piekarz, park district executive director, is both excited and relieved that the project is now going out for bid and that construction of the new facility is expected to begin around May 1.
Piekarz said the new rec center will give the residents of Forest Park a lot of value for the $6 million being spent to construct the facility. The 1500-square-foot building itself will feature a full high school regulation hardwood basketball court, a walking/jogging track, a fitness center, locker rooms and a multi-use program space. The court can be divided in half to, for example, enable a volleyball game and a basketball game to be going on side by side.
Before the Roos building was demolished, the park board was able to save the two pillars that flanked the entrance to the building. They will be featured with a pristine Roos cedar chest a special place inside the rec center to remind those who use the facility of the location's history.
Outside the building, an outdoor amphitheater with a grass berm will be the setting for small concerts, an open-air gazebo, a quarter-mile walking/jogging path with outdoor fitness stations and a sensory garden.
At the corner of Circle and Harrison a bike parking lot and repair station will be built, complete with an air hose and tools that will enable commuters to park their bikes, hop on the Blue Line and, when they return at the end of the day, to fill their tires with air if they have gone flat. The park board is also making plans to construct a "ninja warrior" obstacle course for pre-teens and an ice skating rink with in-ground refrigeration coils that will make it usable from November through April.
Piekarz expressed relief because he, the board and the residents of Forest Park have had to endure what he referred to as a "go-stop-go-stop" process lasting seven years. It also stems from the fact that if the grant money is not spent by July of 2018, it will not be available.
Following the village referendum which approved the acquisition of the Roos property in 2010, the park district made the actual purchase in 2013 with the intention or using the forming cedar chest factory for classes and activity rooms. But just three weeks after the deal was signed, a vicious storm actually blew down the north wall of the building and the park district received an emergency order to demolish the whole structure.
On top of that, the EPA determined that the property was a toxic site, which required the removal of 500 tons of soil. Fortunately, the park district received an "assessment grant" from the EPA for $200,000 to help pay for the trucking of the material and its disposal in a special landfill.
Then, when the district learned it had received two grants from the Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources and one from the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, they thought they were ready to move ahead with the project, only to learn that the payment of the grants had been suspended due to the budget impasse in Springfield.
Now that the funding has been restored, the park board has a budget of $6 million to work with, $3.5 million of which is grant funded with the rest coming from the residents of Forest Park. Piekarz emphasized that taxes will not increase. Because of the referendum, that portion of the funding has already been collected.
Dignitaries invited to the groundbreaking represent many of the people who were instrumental in moving the project this far. Mayor Anthony Calderone, Village Administrator Tim Gillian, and Steve Glinke, head of code enforcement, have been extremely helpful in the long process, Piekarz said. He also credits state Rep. Chris Welch and state Sen. Kimberly Lightford along with organizations like the Kiwanis Club and the Chamber of Commerce who wrote letters of support to obtain the state grants. He added that Commissioner Richard Boykin is presently working on another grant from Cook County.
Piekarz emphasized the efforts of the entire community. He noted, for example, that the bike parking lot and repair station was the idea of a resident who attended one of the open meetings on the project, and First United Church of Christ has donated a ping pong table.
"With the cooperative effort of everyone in town," he said, "this dream will finally become a reality. We've all been waiting patiently for this to happen, and we're ecstatic that we're finally going to get a shovel in the ground."
The ceremony will last about 30 minutes and refreshments will be served immediately following the groundbreaking. Piekarz added that the construction site will be surrounded by a kind of chain link fencing which will allow residents of Forest Park to view its progress on a daily basis.
The park board expects the new facility to open in the summer of 2018.