Larry Piekarz, the executive director of the Park District of Forest Park, told the Review on Monday that the cleanup work required by the Environmental Protection Agency at the far east end of recently acquired Roos property is “all done.”
The park district bought what has been known as the Roos property at the corner of Circle and Harrison in 2013 at the bargain price (compared to original asking price of $3 million) of $499,000. But, as with many good deals, more work had to be done to get it serviceable.
This past summer the park district’s board of commissioners — Cathleen McDermott, Matt Walsh, John Doss, Eric Entler and Roy Sansone — approved a bid from the Brandonisio Excavating Co. to remove hazardous materials, like arsenic and solvents.
Brandonisio decontaminated 191 tons of soil, according to Piekarz, and shipped it off to local dumps. He said that on the one hand, the Park was lucky that the contaminations was confined to a 30 by 50 foot section where the Roos Building’s dock had formerly stood, but on the other hand the excavating company had to go down 12 feet to remove all of the polluted soil.
“Thankfully,” said Piekarz, “none of the contamination had migrated from the property. Brandonisio did a great job. Everything that is hazardous is gone. We are waiting for a “no further remediation” letter from the EPA certifying that we’ve done all we can do to clean up the property. We don’t want people coming to the park 80 years from now saying that we should have done a more complete job.”
The next step for the board is to ask for bids for the demolishing of the rest of the former industrial building’s foundation.
Piekarz said that Brandonisio was not contracted to do the rest of the work because, as specialists, they would have been more expensive. After that, an orange fabric will be laid over the whole property and 18 inches of new soil will be spread over that. The fabric is water permeable and is there simply to distinguish the old soil from the new.
Piekarz said that on Nov. 19 the board will take up the task of what do next. In a survey several years ago, Forest Park residents indicated that they wanted a gym to be built on the Roos property.
He said that because public opinion may have changed in the intervening time, the board plans to do another community-wide survey this winter and, based on that online questionnaire, complete its master plan for the property.
One factor gumming up the works, said Piekarz, is the recent suspension by Gov. Bruce Rauner of a $2.9 million grant which had been awarded by the state of Illinois to the park district.
“That was huge for us,” Piekarz said. “It’s not like we have our hand out all the time. This is the first time in a long time. We had already been making plans, and now all of a sudden we have to change them. It has been tough.”
Piekarz thinks the board has two options. One is to seed the 18 inches of new soil in the spring and make a temporary modest park out of the parcel, waiting to see if in the future the financial situation will change enabling the construction of a new building.
A second option is to go ahead and build with the park district incurring a large debt. Piekarz noted that the original plan was to rehab the Roos Building and use it for programing, but a storm in June of 2013 actually blew down its north wall and forced the village to issue an emergency order for demolition.
“I give the [Park] Board of Commissioners a lot of credit,” said Piekarz. “They’re making some tough decisions because of the suspension of funding from the state.”
The so called Roos Building had housed several different kinds of manufacturing concerns during its lifetime. According to an article written by former Review Editor Jean Lotus, what was known as the E.D. Roos Cedar Chest factory was built in 1918.
In 2005, developer Alex Troyanovsky began converting the building into 70 condo lofts and 28 townhouses.
After that project went bankrupt, the park district passed a referendum to purchase the property in 2010 and completed the purchase in 2013.