With the formerly imposing Roos Building reduced to a pile of rubble at Circle Avenue and Harrison Street, the Park District of Forest Park is looking at ways to convert the 2.5-acre parcel into usable recreation space.
But before the park district can create green space or a recreation center with an indoor gym and classrooms, the property needs environmental remediation, according to tests done by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the park district, Illinois EPA tests show the soil and groundwater under the 1916 building contains multiple hazardous substances, including tetrachloroethene, trichloroethene, vinyl chloride, benzene, toluene, acetone, methylene chloride, 16 polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and dangerous metals, among other substances.
The park district is applying for a brownfield cleanup grant from the United States EPA, said parks district Director Larry Piekarz.
The EPA can award grants of up to $200,000 per site to remove hazardous substances, pollutants or contaminants, according to the EPA website. The grant would require the district to share 20 percent of the cost.
“Let’s get the property safe and clean it up,” Piekarz said.
A handful of residents met with park commissioners for coffee on Nov. 9 to share their concerns about environmental hazards, Piekarz said.
Along with cleaning up the site, the park district hopes to apply for grants to build something new. Step two is to find out what the residents of Forest Park want in the spot, Piekarz said.
The park board meets Nov. 21 to discuss hiring an architect to listen to public comments and create a plan for a gym/fitness center based on what residents say they want.
Once a concept is developed, the park district will apply for two grants, Piekarz said.
The first grant is offered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Up to $200,000 is available through the Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) program.
The second grant, also from the Illinois DNR is the Parks and Recreation Facility Construction (PARC) grant. Up to 75 percent of a new facility project’s costs can be covered by the state of Illinois, Piekarz said.
Piekarz said things have changed since voters initially approved a referendum to pay 12 cents per every $100 of equalized assessed value to create an athletic complex on the site of the Roos building.
A wish list for the property in 2010 included a teen program center, a preschool facility, an indoor gymnasium, fitness room, multi-purpose classrooms, camp programs and a party room, along with offices and rooms to serve as headquarters for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association.
Piekarz and the board have said the residents will have to re-evaluate priorities.
“We have less money to work with than we thought we had in 2010. The [equalized assessed valuation] dropped, and that affected how much we can borrow.”
The park district will hold community meetings in the next few months to get ideas from residents, Piekarz said.
“I need a concept so I can start applying for these grants,” Piekarz said. “There’s money out there and Forest Park deserves it.”