After a second thorough discussion and debate at a special meeting held on Dec. 26, the Park District of Forest Park’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to apply for a PARC grant to expand the Roos Recreation Center. The meeting was held because board members at a Dec. 19 meeting asked for more time to consider the proposal.

Openings for applications for a grant, being offered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), were announced early in December, prompting the park district staff to push up plans to expand the Roos, plans that have been in consideration since the original construction of the building in May 2018.

The park district plans to apply for $2.5 million, the maximum amount the grant will cover. This would pay for half of the expansion, leaving the park district responsible for funding the other $2.5 million of the total $5 million project. The addition would serve the day camp before and after school program, as well as the summer camp, but would be a “multipurpose use facility,” meaning that it could be used for other purposes when camp is not in session.

The 10,000 square foot addition, which would be added to the north side of the building, would provide 3,000 square feet of program space, broken down into three rooms with removable partitions, allowing flexibility of use. It would include dedicated bathrooms, storage, and an entrance to the gym. The outdoor playground currently in that space would be relocated

Board Vice President Cathleen McDermott and board member Eric Entler, who voted against the grant application, expressed concerns about the project.

McDermott’s frustration stemmed from how quickly the decision needed to be made. “I wish we had another year,” she said, stating that she felt the board needed more research, time and statistics to make a completely educated decision. 

“A feasibility study would make me feel better,” she added.

One of her biggest concerns is sustainability of the addition. “The Roos has taken off like gangbusters,” she said. But she questioned whether it would continue to do so. She also said she wanted to be certain that the park district would be building the expansion for residents, not out-of-towners who use the facilities.

Referencing the fact that at the Roos’ popular open gym sessions about 60 percent of participants are not from Forest Park, she said, “We are not building this for out of towners.”

Whether spending $2.5 of park district money on an expansion was the best use of funds was discussed as well. Both Entler and McDermott mentioned other park projects that need work, including resurfacing the tennis courts, repairing the west parapet wall and roof on the main building, and potential maintenance of the pool. 

Jackie Iovinelli, park district executive director, said that the park district has a capital improvements budget, so there will still be money for additional projects that need to be completed. And, she said, a choice needed to be made given the opportunity presented by the grant.

“There are lots of projects that need to be done here,” she said. “But we have the possibility for $2.5 million, which has pushed this one to the front.”

She also reminded the board, as she had said at the Dec. 19 meeting, that in terms of sustainability, the Roos expansion will be multipurpose space, meaning it can be used for whatever the changing needs of the community dictate. For example, she said, it could be used for mom-tot classes during the day or senior yoga, depending on fluctuations in population or demographics.

Iovinelli added that in terms of outgrowing the addition if the trend of heavy usage and fitness center memberships continued, the architect would ensure that the expansion is designed and constructed with the possibility of building upward in the future to leave that option open.

Business Manager Jeff Murphy said he supported applying for the grant. “Financially, this is the time to do this,” he said, adding that the park district has the money for the addition. “I believe in generating revenue,” said Murphy. “The expansion will help do that.”

Rachel Entler, recreation and marketing supervisor at the park district, cited the rapid growth of program offerings at the park, which has prompted the need for more space. From 2018 to 2019, said Entler, the district almost doubled the program offerings, and they are canceling less programs. The addition, she said, would allow them to offer group fitness classes with the appropriate flooring and space, and that the removable partitions would create a sound barrier, a feature that dividing the gym doesn’t offer. 

“It would allow Andrew [Doss, fitness center director] to offer different types of memberships,” said Rachel Entler, such as group fitness memberships for people who like the classes but don’t use the fitness room.

Iovinelli said, “In three years, we won’t have enough space if we continue growing like we have been.” She said she didn’t want to look back in a year and regret not taking advantage of this opportunity.

Board President Roy Sansone and board members Matt Walsh and John Doss voted in favor of the grant application. McDermott and Eric Entler voted against it. The grant will be submitted by Jan. 21.