Forest Park officials are hoping to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to demolish the chapel building on the village-owned Altenheim property, which they contend is in danger of collapsing.
At Monday’s meeting, the village council unanimously approved the application to Cook County for a $400,000 grant to cover the majority of the $440,000 cost of the project. CDBG funds would cover the cost of demolishing the chapel building and removing debris. The village would contribute $40,000 to cover engineering costs.
The village purchased the property for $3.6 million in 2001, averting a sale to a private developer whose plans were to build townhomes. The property consists of 11 acres north and south of Altenheim and includes the chapel building and three outbuildings, all of which are empty and boarded up. At one point, the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park targeted the site for a new facility, but negotiations fell through. Fenwick High School in Oak Park also inquired about purchasing the property for a football field and other athletic fields. More recently, village resident Ralph DiFebo has proposed creating a mini-Ravinia on the property, although village officials said Monday’s action is not connected to that plan.
“It’s a public safety issue,” Mayor Anthony Calderone explained after the meeting.
The project would begin in January and conclude in October 2018 with actual demolition scheduled to take place in June, July and August. Following demolition, the area would become a grassy area.
In the CDBG application, village officials said the building is “falling into disrepair” and that it “began to fail” over the winter. Noting the adjacent property is used for parks and recreation activities, the building “needs to be demolished to prevent any injuries.”
Village Administrator Tim Gillian explained the high cost of demolition is due to environmental considerations.
“There’s a lot of asbestos in there,” he said. “That’s the big expense.”
The application includes a letter from Steve Glinke, public health and safety director, explaining that he inspects the property on a monthly basis. In the letter, he states, he noticed that the chapel building had “deteriorated significantly over the past couple of months” with holes in the roof and bricks falling from the structure. He also points out that concrete jersey barriers have been installed to protect pedestrians from the falling debris but notes that is only a “temporary measure.”
“There is serious concern that the building may collapse within the next six months,” the application states. “The building is adjacent to public space used for community events such as Forest Park Ribfest. Residents use the Altenheim property parking lot at those times and walk past the deteriorating structure, which poses a safety hazard.”
Calderone and Gillian said the village has applied for CDBG grants on an almost annual basis for years, usually for infrastructure improvements such as alley reconstruction.
Gillian admitted previous grants have been for lesser amounts with county officials usually reducing the grant awards to $175,000.
Acknowledging the demolition “has to get done,” he said village officials would go back to the drawing board if CDBG funds are insufficient or not available.
Cook County might not have any CDBG funds to distribute with the future of the program, which is overseen by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), now in doubt following action by President Donald Trump earlier this month.
In the budget he sent to Congress, the overall HUD budget is marked for a $6.2 billion cut, a reduction of 13.2 percent, and all of the department’s CDBG money is zeroed out.
The president’s message to Congress reportedly is that state and local governments need to handle “community and economic development needs.”
Since 1974, the grant program has provided states with more than $150 billion to distribute to communities for projects that benefit low-income people.
While acknowledging the possible loss, Calderone and Gillian remain hopeful.
“Who knows what will happen?” Gillian asked.