It has taken six years to get there, but construction of the proposed gym and multi-purpose center to be built on the site of the former Roos cedar chest factory is within sight — literally.

On Thursday, June 23 park board members got their first look at an artist’s rendering of the proposed facility presented in a slide show by Tom Poulos, vice president and managing principal of Williams Architects, headquartered in Itasca, and Frank Parisi, another principal of the company and its recreational project leader.

The park district bought the Roos property following passage of a referendum in 2010 approving the purchase.

Floor plan

In accord with the results of the survey sent out to Forest Park residents by the park board last January, Poulos shared an 11,090-square-foot floor plan, which features a 9,000-square-foot gym with a hardwood court in the middle that can be used for basketball, volleyball or badminton. Circling the court are two lanes for running or walking.

The second feature is a 1,065-square-foot “multi-use” room which, for example, could be filled with workout machines. The third part of the schematic presented by the architects includes an entryway/lobby through which patrons would be able to access the gym, the multi-use room, toilets and staff offices.

Noting that the design included no showers or lockers, Commissioner John Doss asked how much two locker rooms with showers would add to the total cost, to which Parisi replied “about $15,000 each.”

The plan also includes an outdoor plaza right outside the lobby doors at the corner of Harrison and Hannah, which would serve as an area for dropping off patrons and, with benches, trees and shrubs, an area for conversation and just hanging out.

Parisi pointed out that the design also includes the possibility of expanding the facility if needs change or more funding becomes available.

Back in March when the park board analyzed the results of its survey, park Commissioner Roy Sansone remarked that the overwhelming response of village residents was to construct a multi-purpose facility on the Roos site. The board’s challenge, he noted, was to prioritize the long wish list of items residents wanted included and at the same time remain within the budget which turned out to be $2.6 million. The amount of money available for construction has, of course, been limited by the budget impasse in Springfield.

Materials

Park District Executive Director Larry Piekarz said some board members initially wanted the façade of the new facility to match the administration building at the corner of Harrison and Beloit, but it soon became apparent that using stone for the outside walls would be cost-prohibitive.

Instead, what Williams architects did was to use some stone on the sides of the lobby facing Harrison and Hannah Streets, to “tie the building in” with the administration building to the west, but to use materials like metal panels for the exterior, which are constructed to conserve energy and are obtainable at a cost that meets the budget. The upper portion of the gym would be constructed with a translucent material that is not only energy efficient but allows enough sunlight to penetrate the interior so no electric lighting should be needed during the day. 

Style

Like customers shopping for a pair of shoes, both the architects from Williams and the park commissioners wanted a building that is not only functional but also looks good.

Poulos showed slides of the proposed exterior and said, “This building is in an award-winning category.” He noted features like the translucent panels forming the top half of the gym’s outside wall. Not only will the panels allow light into the gym during the day, he said, but at night the panels will allow the interior light to create an attractive glow. He said the building will act as a “beacon,” drawing people’s attention to not only the park but also to the whole village. 

“It will be a showcase for the village,” he said.

Board reaction

Commissioner Eric Entler’s first comments were, “It’s different, a little bold.”

Commissioner Cathleen McDermott said, “I like the stone and glass facing on the lobby. It’s more inviting than the entrance to the administration building we’re meeting in.”

“I love it,” said Commissioner John Doss; “A breath of fresh air,” added Commissioner Roy Sansone; “I’m impressed,” said Matt Walsh, president of the board.

Piekarz picked up on Doss’ proposal to add lockers and showers to the plan and shared a picture already in his mind regarding one way the new facility could be used. “I picture village residents getting off the Blue Line at Circle Avenue,” he said, “walking half a block to the gym or multi-use room, working out, taking a shower, and getting home in time for dinner.”

In an email a day later, Walsh expanded on his initial favorable reaction. 

“I was once again pleased with the work that our design team and staff put in to create a plan that meets our district’s needs,” he said. “The building’s design is sleek and unique but provides functionality for a number of programs. The layout also provides easy expansion opportunities for the building, and development of the outside area.

“The park district has relied on the same building for programs for eight decades. Our hope is that this new facility will have the same impact on the next few generations, and we are confident this design will be a valuable landmark in the center of town.”

The next step in the process is to clear the plans with the village of Forest Park and to have a construction engineer from the Frederick Quinn company get exact pricing for all the materials required to complete the construction. Piekarz said he is keeping his fingers crossed in the hopes the park can break ground for the project this October.