No one ever thought that expanding the park on Harrison Street was going to be easy. After many steps, sidesteps and a couple of steps backward, here is where things stand now as we head into the winter.
Larry Piekarz, executive director of the Park District of Forest Park, said Monday that the essential step of remediating the soil under the former and now demolished Roos Building has been completed.
That a 97-year-old industrial plant had a portion of its site contaminated was no surprise. In fact, the surprise likely was how contained the contamination was – a 30-by-50-foot area near the former loading dock – and that the contaminants had not migrated beyond that limited area.
On the long list of convincing voters back in 2010 to raise their taxes to pay for this project, using both patience and wrestling skills to pry this property loose from a series of banks bouncing the title through a prolonged foreclosure process, making the purchase at a good price, the soil remediation is another milestone. The park district now waits for a “no further remediation” letter from the Environmental Protection Agency.
So what is next? Well, here come the sidesteps and backsteps.
The initial plan was to renovate the handsome and spacious Roos Cedar Chest factory building. While it was clear that years of active neglect had taken a toll on the structure, it was still something of a shock when a 2013 storm took out a portion of the north wall and led to the emergency demolition of the entire building. In retrospect, that may have been a blessing. Our heart says preserve. But retrofitting that building on a taxpayer-mandated tight budget was almost certain to provide unhappy discoveries.
Now the site is nearly clear – a portion of the original foundation must still be dug out and hauled away. But key portions of funding construction of a new park building on the site are now caught up in the combination of the state’s miserable financial status and the disturbing fight by our elected statewide officials over what to do about it.
Nearly $800,000 promised to Forest Park in state distributed, but federally funded, grants created specifically to fund the expansion of open space in communities are now frozen by Gov. Bruce Rauner. That’s money that the park district won by making a convincing case to state officials. Rauner now holds that money hostage in the ongoing nonsense in Springfield. Since the money came from the feds, is specifically targeted for one purpose and cannot be spent to pay off pensions or fuel up state troopers squad cars, we assume that eventually these funds will be released.
So, as Piekarz says, the park board faces one more tough decision. Demonstrate more patience and turn the vacant site into a temporary field while waiting for state government to regain its senses. Or roll the dice, take on major debt and start building in 2016.
Our vote would be for patience. Slow and steady has gotten the park district this far.