Out of the belabored and sometimes contentious negotiations that cleared the way for a new YMCA facility in Forest Park, village officials snagged a number of potential perks for the community. According to contracts agreed to in January, several local agencies will get first dibs in using the new recreation center and residents who sign up for a membership will see a discount on their fees.
Village officials also retained the right to develop a roughly one-acre parcel into new office space, school facilities or a church. There are no plans to begin such a project at this point, Mayor Anthony Calderone said.
“It is indeed just a placeholder,” Calderone said of the development rights.
The issue of discounted memberships was mentioned publicly by both the West Cook YMCA and representatives of the village as a sticking point in the negotiations. Commissioners argued that for playing host to the non-profit, residents deserve some level of preferential treatment. YMCA representatives expressed reluctance, arguing that the organization often subsidizes membership costs for the good of the community. What emerged is a somewhat limited offer that applies only to a portion of the fees charged to new members.
For Forest Park residents, a 10 percent discount on the “joining fee” will be applied to those who sign up for a membership during the first year the YMCA is open. Currently, the joining fee for an adult is $135, according to the YMCA’s Web site. That fee is in addition to the monthly charge of $45.
Using those figures, village residents who join in the first year would save only $13.50 on a one-year membership.
A membership for children is currently $20 per month with a one-time fee of $60.
At its facility on Marion Street in Oak Park, the YMCA already extends a 10 percent discount to seniors. Fridays, too, are free for elderly users. Language in the contract with Forest Park guarantees those benefits will be offered to local seniors for at least five years.
During a spirited discussion of the contract at a Jan. 26 council meeting, elected officials made clear that one of the biggest priorities in agreeing to sell 7.8 acres to the YMCA at a discounted price is the promise of certain programming, in particular, evening basketball. From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Friday, the YMCA committed to making its indoor courts available so long as there is interest in the program.
The municipality is also guaranteed the use of the YMCA’s outdoor sports fields for five hours a week. Those hours can be handed over to various non-profit groups and others designated by the village.
Also, the Howard Mohr Community Center is slated to receive free access to the facility for children and seniors for four hours each month.
“We’re all after the same thing – getting the kids taken care of,” Karen Dylewski, community center director, said.
Additional language in the agreements also puts the schools and the park district at the table when programming is developed.
District 91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo met recently with Scott Gaalaas, president of the YMCA, to begin building that relationship. No firm plans are in place, but Cavallo said he’s interested in daycare and early childhood programs. It may also be feasible to begin a swimming program using the new YMCA’s indoor pool. “It’s nice to know that Scott wants to partner with the schools,” Cavallo said.
Larry Piekarz, director of the Park District of Forest Park, said he, too, is unsure of what a partnership may look like, but some sharing of resources already takes place. Lifeguard training for park district employees is sometimes held at the YMCA, for example.
A likely priority, said Piekarz, will be to maximize the outdoor ball fields at the YMCA and the parks.
“They’ve been very good at working with us,” Piekarz said of the West Cook YMCA.
The negotiations to bring a new recreation facility to the corner of Van Buren and Madison streets leaves the village with a little less than one acre of land that is often referred to as the “hole in the donut” because of its location in the overall project. It is this parcel on which municipal officials secured development rights. That agreement, though, was forged with the neighboring Altenheim more so than the YMCA, according to the mayor. The Altenheim previously owned the entire parcel and is the most immediate neighbor to the site of the proposed YMCA. The Altenheim has held tough development restrictions on the land being sold by the village to make way for the recreation facility.
According to the new agreements, the Altenheim will allow for a K-8 private school; municipal offices – except for police, fire and public works; a church; daycare for children up to age 6; and office space for a charity or philanthropic cause, such as a cultural center or museum.
“We don’t have anybody in mind,” Calderone said of the potential uses.