It took nearly $2 million and a referendum vote in 2003, but Sandra Boy finally got what she’s been asking for all these years.
Boy took the maiden voyage in a new elevator at the Park District facility’s headquarters Jan. 19 following a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of a months-long renovation that included several new features that improve accessibility for handicapped residents. Boy, whose husband Howard Boy is a commissioner for the district, has lamented the building’s stairways for years, and in making the first ascent joined a small group of park users for whom such amenities are intended.
“It was a long time coming,” Howard Boy said of the building’s upgrades. “It had to be done.”
The renovation project that began in May 2007 isn’t entirely complete, but park officials opened the building to the public over the weekend to unveil some of the most substantive changes. Replacing a dark, winding stairway on the Harrison Street building’s east side is an open foyer where users can register for programs on the first floor. In taking the elevator to the second and third floors, visitors will find additional classroom space, renovated offices and new bathrooms that are also wheelchair accessible.
Executive Director Larry Piekarz said there are some finishing touches to be done, and workers are still renovating a veranda so that it can be opened to the public. The money for the project was freed up by voters in 2003 with a referendum that did not increase local taxes.
Shortly after work began at the district’s administrative building at 7501 Harrison St., construction crews uncovered a leaky underground storage tank once used to store heating oil. The renovation was expected to be complete in October, but the environmental cleanup stalled construction and tacked on additional expenses.
“The underground storage tank was huge,” Piekarz said. “That was a big snag for us.”
Various programs that had been moved to a vacant storefront on Madison Street while crews were on site will be relocated to the park facilities.
Mayor Anthony Calderone attended the ribbon cutting with other members of the village council and cheered the upgrades. The Park District is the “gem” of Forest Park, “the best suburb in the western suburbs,” said Calderone.
Larry Biondi, an advocate for the disabled community with the Progress Center for Independent Living, did not attend the event, but said he was encouraged by the project.
“This demonstrates how the village is taking the right step in improving accessibility for people with disabilities,” Biondi said. “Accessibility in Forest Park has been a slow process, but with these renovations I hope this will serve as a rippling effect to other accessibility improvements in this village.”