Check out this year’s Forest Park Community Guide!

Online edition –>

With the national economy sliding and a major fundraising campaign ahead of them, members of the West Cook YMCA said they are confident the non-profit can put together the financing needed to build a new facility in Forest Park. To that end, the YMCA announced last week its co-chairs for the capital campaign.

“This isn’t the greatest time in the world to be raising funds, but we still expect to be successful,” President and CEO Scott Gaalaas said.

Rev. Donald Register and Mary Jo Schuler, two longtime Oak Park residents, will lead the effort to secure some $12 million that would go toward a state-of-the art facility on 7.8 acres of land adjacent to the Altenheim facility. The YMCA has an agreement to purchase the undeveloped plot from the village of Forest Park. That sale, however, is partially contingent on the agency’s ability to raise enough money to begin construction within 60 days of November 2009. That deadline marks the two-year anniversary of the real estate agreement reached in 2007.

The YMCA, currently located in an aging building on South Marion Street in Oak Park, plans to build a 65,000-square foot facility. The construction is expected to cost some $17 million. A portion of that will likely be paid for with funds collected in the sale of three Oak Park properties owned by the YMCA. According to Gaalaas, a final price is yet to be decided, but a developer has agreed in principal to acquire the parcels. Some two years ago those properties were appraised at more than $5 million, and earlier this year Gaalaas predicted the price could exceed $6 million.

“Obviously the economics have changed,” Gaalaas said. “The price has not been finalized.”

Village Administrator Mike Sturino expressed no new concerns with respect to the YMCA’s fundraising effort given the souring economy, and said he trusts that the organization is getting sound advice from its consultants. Meanwhile, the planning commission recently signed off on the planned use for the proposal, bringing the entire project another step closer to fruition. There remain, though, a number of details to navigate.

“There are a lot of moving parts to this deal because the land is subject to some restrictive covenants put in place [by the Altenheim] when the village acquired the land,” Sturino said.

Too, there may be some confusion between the village and the YMCA over deadlines in the real estate contract. According to Sturino, the YMCA is already seeking an extension to the 2009 financing deadline. Gaalaas, however, said his board of directors intends to break ground in August so there is no reason to request such an extension.

The co-chairs named to the fundraising effort are expected to solicit large donations from wealthier individuals and organizations, building momentum toward a more publicized effort. The YMCA declined to comment on any specifics of the silent campaign, but indicated the general public may start seeing solicitations sometime after January.

Register, 71, is a 37-year resident of Oak Park and a past chairman of the YMCA’s board of directors. In the Presbyterian faith, he was named moderator of the Presbytery of Chicago in 2007 and oversees 105 congregations in the metro area, according to a press release from the YMCA.

Schuler, 46, grew up in Oak Park where she attended Oak Park and River Forest High School. She spent eight years at Triton College in various capacities and with her husband launched a global technology trading firm in 1999. Schuler is a joint owner of the Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park.