The year 2012 was a year of expectation and transition in Forest Park, a village thoroughly tired of the Great Recession and ready for change.
Forest Park welcomed new businesses, big and small on Madison Street. The town got our destination appliance shop back with Grand Appliances. Madison Shoes and Knit Nirvana brought new retail to the street.
The Halloween weekend Chamber of Commerce Casket Races and Wine Walks added new public events to the village’s calendar, but the Forest Park of 2013 will miss the 4th of July fireworks and the future of Summer Fest is on the fence.
Fenwick makes Altenheim offer, gets cold shoulder
Fenwick High School in Oak Park made its interest known more strongly in 2012 in the 11-acre village-owned parcel behind the Altenheim retirement residence in the 7800 block of Madison.
Commissioner of Public Property Chris Harris held a town hall meeting in February, filling the basement of Village Hall to discuss proposed uses for the property. Those uses included a park with sculpture garden, a private paddle tennis court, a small convenience store/strip mall and a wedding chapel.
Then, the private Catholic high school presented a letter of intent to Mayor Anthony Calderone in May outlining its intent to purchase the property for a variety of uses, ranging from practice fields for football, soccer and lacrosse to a football stadium with lights, locker room and concession stand.
But Calderone said publicly he would not negotiate with Fenwick until the village completes its Comprehensive Plan, to be managed by Wheaton’s Images, Inc. beginning in 2013.
Resident Jessica Rinks leased a corner of the property for Purple Leaf Farms to grow vegetables and flowers to sell at the Forest Park Farmers’ Market.
Forest Park commissioner loses by 33 votes in squeaker Dem primary
Outspent 3-to-1 and in a four-way race, Forest Park Commissioner Rory Hoskins ran against Proviso Township High School District 209 School Board President Emanuel “Chris” Welch and lost by 33 votes in the March 20 Democratic primary for the 7th District Illinois Rep. seat vacated by Karen Yarbrough. Two other candidates, Princess Dempsey and Beyonca Johnson also ran.
Hoskins as a “favorite son” of Forest Park got no love from his fellow commissioners on the village council: Mayor Anthony Calderone publically supported Welch with five other Proviso mayors and sent out 1,400 personal letters to Forest Park voters on Welch’s behalf which included mail ballots. Mark Hosty wore a Welch button during Village Council meetings and hosted a Welch fundraiser at Healy’s Westside. Commissioner Tom Mannix and his political consulting company Dolfin Consultants orchestrated two robo-call town hall events for Welch which reached more than 3,000 voters, Welch told the Review.
Since no Republican or independent candidate ran in the general election Nov. 6, Welch will head to Springfield to represent the 7th District.
Roos building still a dream, fireworks cancelled for 2013
The Park District of Forest Park seemed to make little progress on acquiring the Roos Building at 7329 W. Harrison Ave. and transforming it into a multi-use complex. Meanwhile, parks director Larry Piekarz said teenagers perched in the building’s second floor during the July 4th fireworks display, influenced the board’s September decision to cancel the fireworks for next year. The park district continues to negotiate with Harris Bank, which currently holds the mortgage on the building.
District 91 returns tax money. Schools gear up for new assessment
The year 2012 could be called “the year of the tax giveback” from Forest Park School District 91. Under the direction of Finance Director and whiz-kid Ed Brophy, the school rebated $1.5 million in tax levy refunds scheduled to take place in 2012 and 2013.
The board chose to abate the savings that resulted from paying off debt service on bonds that had expired. According to the district, the abatement would equal a savings of $216 for a home valued at $350,000 and $288 for a residence valued at $450,000.
“It’s unheard of that a school district is giving back taxpayer money,” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said. “We have positive balances in all of our funds. There is no need to sell bonds. We see no need for a referendum in the foreseeable future. The board has made tough decisions,” Cavallo said.
MAP testing and student growth
Forest Park School District 91 introduced Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing, which is computer-based and personalized to gauge student growth as opposed to attainment.
“The guesswork is gone,” with the MAP tests, Cavallo said. “We can create a plan to meet each student where they are and work with their needs.” Results of the first year of MAP tests showed that a significant number of Forest Park students performed at state levels, but did not “grow” during the year. This includes children who are already grade-competent and need extra enrichment.
Illinois schools will face changes in high-stakes testing in 2013, including a new scoring method for the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) that will more accurately dovetail into the results of the 8th and 9th grade EXPLORE tests. Like all Illinois schools, D91 will face the challenges of the new Common Core Standards.
Vice principal saves District 91 summer school
Summer school 2012 at Forest Park Middle School was cancelled and then re-booted, after a teacher discovered her credit card had been stolen from her purse and found it had been used to make online purchases delivered to the home of a female student. The teacher took an early vacation and when a substitute failed to show up for the final two weeks of class, FPMS Vice Principal Michelle Gossett stepped in and taught the remaining classes.
D209 Finance Oversight Panel taunted by the audience, given new powers by state Board of Ed
Public commenters hurled racial epithets and swear words and carried signs berating the Proviso High School District 209 Financial Oversight Panel in May, 2012. The state-appointed group of volunteer school finance professionals asked the Illinois State Board of Education to upgrade their status to include new powers passed by legislation. As a countermove, the D209 Board of Education asked the state to dissolve the oversight group and a van-full of protestors headed to the State Board of Ed meeting in Springfield. State Superintendent of Education Edward Koch granted the FOP new powers under 1-H status to hire and fire superintendents and CFOs and negotiate contracts. The panel was increased to include Broadview resident and private security officer Kenneth Walls, and former Proviso West vice principal and athletic coach Frank Montgomery.
Chicago Magazine ranks PMSA in the top 20
Chicago Magazine’s September 2012 issue ranked Proviso Math and Science Academy number 14 in the 20 highest ranked high schools in Suburban Cook County. According to the magazine, the school with 769 students has a 45.3 percent low-income population and spends $7,583 per student, compared to top-scoring Glenbrook North which spends $11,224 per student with a population of 2,123 students.
Proviso East almost makes basketball history
The Proviso East High School Pirates basketball team, under the coaching of alum head coach Donnie Boyce, made it to the Class 4A state championship held at Bradley University in March, losing to Chicago powerhouse Simeon High School by an agonizing two points.
The Village of Maywood held an impromptu parade for the almost-conquering heroes including the Proviso East marching band, cheer squad and the players themselves, who rode in a late-model convertible down First Avenue.
“This town likes winners,” Boyce said later. “All season long, the school and community were great in supporting our program. Honestly, I can’t wait to get back in the gym and finish what we started.”
Music of the world in Forest Park
Forest Park’s entertainment choices expanded in 2012 as the Madison Street World Music Series presented the sounds of music from around the world. The series was started in June, 2012 by neighbor merchants Pineapple Dance Studios owner Erika Ochoa and Jodi Gianakopoulos, co-owner of The Old School Records. From Arabic-tinged jazz fusion to flamenco, the series presented regional world music artists in the Pineapple studio’s red Saracenic-inspired studio upstairs at 7518 W. Madison. Visiting artists included: Magic Carpet, Black Bear Combo, Kalyan Pathak’s Jazz Mata, Ecos del Pacifico Afro Colombia, Son del viento de Chicago, Lamajamal, Ancestral Roots, Guitar Circle of Chicago and Hermanos Salcedo.
Forest Park novelist Billy Lombardo, winner of the 2011 Nelson Algren Award, had his short story “Clover” chosen for the debut edition of the Chicago Tribune’s new subscription-only Printers Row Journal book section in February. The slim blue 25 page pamphlet featuring Lombardo’s piece was distributed free in every Sunday Tribune.
“I got lucky winning the Algren award the year [the Tribune] started this new business model,” said Lombardo. “It’s very rare to have a story hit that many hands, especially if you don’t have a huge name.”
Historical Society surges forward
The rejuvenated Historical Society of Forest Park had a series of challenges and triumphs in 2012. The first annual historic bicycle tour of Forest Park was inaugurated, as was the wildly successful Forest Parkopoly fundraising board game, which sold almost 200 copies in time for the holidays.
The society also took a step toward professionalism by hiring Diane Grah as a part-time director and partnering with Dominican University Conservation Expert Cecilia Salvatore and her students to catalog the town treasures. Look for a new historic reenactment event, the “Des Plaines River Anthology,” in 2013.
But the society still seeks a permanent home after moving from rent-free space over a Madison Street storefront. The soon-to-be demolished 512 Desplaines building and the now closed Forest Park Post Office were both floated as locations, but the society was hopeful when it moved the collection to a temporary home at St. Peter’s Church, 500 Hannah. Now the church may be sold to a Chicago congregation in 2013.