The Park District of Forest Park (PDFP) received a letter last week from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources informing them that with the passage of a temporary state budget, the parks would be receiving the $2.5 million in a PARC (Parks and Recreation Construction) grant approved two years ago and $400,000 in an OSLAD (Open Space and Land Acquisition Development) grant approved in January, 2015.
Executive Director Larry Piekarz said the good news from Springfield will enable the park board to restore elements of the Roos Property Development plan, which had been cut following the potential non-receipt of funding as a result of the year-long inability of Gov. Rauner and the state legislature to pass a budget.
Piekarz said the money will enable the board to put showers in the new gym’s locker rooms but will mainly allow the architects to restore elements outside the new facility like a gazebo and a lighted walking path all around the former Roos Property, which had been included in the original plan.
In an interview with the Review on Monday, Piekarz expressed gratitude for the many people who worked together to bring the vision closer to becoming a reality. First, he wanted to thank the residents of Forest Park for their patience with a process that began with the passing of a referendum to fund the Roos Property development way back in 2010.
He also had high praise for state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th District) and Rep. Chris Welch (7th District). “They have been instrumental in keeping this project alive,” he said. “They made sure that our grant money was included in the temporary budget. They do the best they can in the ‘jumbled’ situation in the state government.” Piekarz added that the two legislators were enthusiastic about the project partly because it would create jobs in their district, short-term jobs for construction workers and long-term jobs for the staff who will be working in the gym.
Piekarz said Mayor Calderone has “been supportive of the project from the beginning and has talked to legislators on our behalf.” In an election campaign season in which many anti-government voices are being heard, Piekarz said this is a good example of government working together.
Rachell Entler, the park district’s recreation supervisor, noted that Piekarz, park board members and staff like herself had driven to Springfield multiple times to present their case to the legislators. “When you drive all the way down to Springfield,” she explained, “you show them how important the project is to you. We were able to show them concrete ways that the budget freeze was affecting us in Forest Park.”
Piekarz agreed that forming and maintaining relationships is important.
“It’s nice to know that I can pick up the phone and talk to Sen. Lightford and Rep. Welch,” he said. “We know each other. It’s a nice working relationship.” What being known by legislators does, he added, “is to get you in the door more quickly.”
Piekarz said that Eric Entler, a park board member, has been an especially effective advocate for the park district. As a member of the Illinois Association of Park District board, he is in Springfield more than anyone. Piekarz also praised the park board for being fiscally conservative and maintaining a good credit rating while paying for an over $3 million project.
The take away from this project, now much closer to completion, is, he said, “If we all work together and no one worries about who’s going to get the credit, a lot more things will get done.”