These 10 stories arguably made some of the biggest waves in Forest Park over the last 12 months, and all of them will continue to have an impact into 2007 and beyond. What we find particularly noteworthy is the mix of issues these stories represent. Our own Ed Hall tried to change the world on national television while Sgt. Dan Harder fought for his job in the basement of village hall. A nearly century-old school celebrated the opening of its doors amid financial hardship and residents are buoyed by the prospect of saving another community landmark through redevelopment.
We encourage readers of the Forest Park Review to ponder the events of the last year and give us your thoughts on the most significant events of 2006. In the meantime, enjoy ours.
Downtown parking proposal draws fire; council delays vote under pressure
With an engineering report citing a need for an additional 158 parking spaces along Madison Street, village officials presented a plan in November to acquire six residential properties to expand existing surface lots. Handfuls of residents spoke out against the proposal, while pro-business camps voiced their support.
A final determination on the plan to create roughly 50 more parking spaces has not been made.
Proponents of the plan pointed to years of complaints from residents, village officials, store owners and shoppers as further proof that more parking is needed. Many of the plan’s critics also acknowledged in their statements to the council that additional parking is necessary.
However, village commissioners were blasted for considering the use of eminent domain laws for a plan that would mitigate only one-third of the assessed need.
Still a winner; local contestant finishes second on ‘American Inventor’
Ed Hall had the support of an entire community behind him during his bid to be crowned America’s next big inventor by ABC television this year. Hall, a former school teacher and one time NBA hopeful, quit a teaching job several years ago to devote himself full-time to his invention, the Word Ace.
Word Ace is an electronic spelling game intended to help students improve their skills while having fun. At a May screening of the ABC show’s finale at the Living Word Christian Center on Roosevelt Road, Hall was cheered by hundreds of supporters to a second place finish in the contest.
Though he didn’t take the television show’s first prize, Hall did earn himself a meeting with the Hasbro Games toy company. His invention also received ringing endorsements from focus groups and a three-time national Scrabble champion along the way.
Proviso Township hires new superintendent; District 209 sees immediate changes
Since the hire of Superintendent Stan Fields in August, Proviso Township High School District 209 has seen changes on several fronts, perhaps ushering in a new era for the embattled district.
In his first month on the job, Fields suspended both principals of the Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park. The board of education voted to terminate one of those building administrators and as of Dec. 22 the second principal remains on unpaid administrative leave.
Fields has pointed to the district’s finances as being the most immediate priority, and resolved to balance the budget within two years. A balanced budget initiative was approved by the board and Fields has said next year’s budget proposal will be built from scratch.
A study done by Technivista, determined D209’s finances, employee moral, student performance and management practices were in poor standing.
Catholic school staying afloat; St. Bernardine avoids closure
For 90 years students have attended classes at the small Catholic school on Elgin Avenue, and in the midst of declining enrollment and a shrinking revenue base, St. Bernardine School remained open for another year.
Parents, teachers and administrators at the institution spoke of stability and tradition as motivating factors to rescue the school from financial hardship, but the Archdiocese of Chicago is keeping a close eye on the numbers. No official breaking point was put in place by the diocese, but the office is looking for another 50 students in the next two years.
To sustain the school through the 2006-07 year, parishioners kicked in some $80,000 in donations and landed their first ever billboard advertisement free of charge. Administrators did their part as well, hitting enrollment projections for the year.
Commissioner sues village; Terry Steinbach claims privacy violated by e-mail hackers
Arguing that a political rival gained access to privileged information, mayoral hopeful and village Commissioner Terry Steinbach filed a federal lawsuit against the village after discovering that an e-mail account may have been spied on.
According to court documents, Steinbach found that several e-mails within her village maintained account were forwarded to Mayor Anthony Calderone by a third party. Her suit names the village’s IT director as the only person who could access her password protected account, however, two John Doe defendants are named as co-conspirators.
The commissioner has declined to reveal the nature of those e-mails, but insists the release of the information contained within has harmed her. She is seeking an unspecified amount in compensatory damages and is requesting a jury trial.
The village has no record that it ever informed Steinbach of its policy on e-mail communications, which states there should be no expectation of privacy.
Chief wins decision against Sgt. Dan Harder; civil case pending
More than a year after Police Chief James Ryan requested a hearing to terminate Sgt. Dan Harder, the Fire and Police Commission voted overwhelmingly to affirm the allegations lodged by Ryan.
That vote, taken in October, upheld a list of 10 charges, seven of which contend the officer violated the department’s code of conduct when he used derogatory language with a subordinate. Harder was also accused of abusing the department’s policy on sick time and lying to the chief.
Commission member Glenn Garlisch cast the lone vote in Harder’s favor, voting not to sustain the accusation that Harder violated the department’s attendance policy.
On Dec. 7, the commission met again to consider sanctions against Harder. Both sides will have 35 days to appeal the ruling with the Cook County Circuit Court.
Harder is suing the village and several employees for violating his constitutional rights.
Civic giant retires; village better for Art Jones
As a community leader on several fronts, the news that longtime village resident Art Jones was heading south for greener pastures and warmer skies was a momentous day for the community.
Though he and his wife still maintain an apartment in Forest Park, Jones announced in May that he would become a full-time resident of South Carolina after having helped lead the community out of some very bleak times. Among his many credits, Jones served as a superintendent for District 91, was an executive vice president with a local bank and sat on various economic development boards including the Main Street Redevelopment Association.
Just prior to his withdrawal from various civic groups, colleagues and co-workers described Jones as an even-handed, consummate professional who handled life in the fish bowl like a southern gentleman.
No longer in the public eye, Jones is still playing a role in the future of Forest Park. He was hired as a consultant by the District 91 Board of Education to help find potential replacements for retiring Superintendent Randolph Tinder.
Roos property still seen as viable; developer eyeing residential use
No bricks were laid nor were any nails hammered, but plans to rehab the former Roos property at 7329 Harrison St. continue to feed hopes that the long vacant structure can be saved from demolition.
Developer Alex Troyanovsky teamed up with architect John Schiess to unveil a proposal in July to construct 102 residential units within the existing shell. That mix of townhouses and condominiums was scaled back slightly several months later when a new architect was called on to head the project.
The village is set to review the revised plans in early January, but Troyanovsky has said there will be 70 loft condos and 28 town homes.
The 107,000-square foot building was constructed in the 1920s as the home of the Edward Roos Cedar Chest Company.
No deal struck on YMCA; talks more than 12 months old
More than a year’s time has passed since representatives of the West Cook YMCA proposed building a new facility in Forest Park, and no deals have been inked.
Since commissioners heard the pitch in October of 2005 to construct a $19 million facility in Forest Park, negotiations have moved at a “glacial” pace, according to Village Administrator Mike Sturino.
In November, YMCA officials reached the end of their fiscal rope and said they would not increase their offer to purchase a portion of the village owned Altenheim property off Madison Street. At least four members of the village council said the project is still viable.
Even if a selling price were agreed on, the YMCA still has some significant fund-raising to do. Of the estimated $19 million needed to construct a 65,000-square foot facility complete with two indoor pools, a track and basketball courts, roughly $10 million is expected to come from donations.
Park district fixture retires; Novak steps down after three decades of service
After more than three decades of making sure people were having a good time, Dave Novak announced in May that he would pass that responsibility onto the next executive director of the Forest Park Park District.
Novak, 55, is retiring from the park district after having led the organization for 23 years. He began his career with the district in 1974 and worked as the superintendent of recreation before taking the corner office in 1983. During his tenure the village saw the construction of the $3.1 million aquatic center in 1995, and sweeping renovations to the park’s softball and soccer fields.
Novak said he will miss the village’s 16-inch softball tournaments most of all.
In addition to his work with the park district, Novak has served on the board of directors for the Chamber of Commerce and Main Street, was a member of the District 91 Board of Education and the Community Education Council.