The bids to rehab the Mohr Community Center playground and replace the playground have increased the project costs by nearly a third, leading the village council to dip into the American Rescue Plan Act federal funds — which could leave it less to spend on everything else. 

Village Administrator Moses Amidei originally proposed spending $150,000 in ARPA funding on the project. But the bid responses pushed the project costs up to $218,285. During the April 24 village council meeting, Amidei said the village could potentially fill the gap with state grant funding.

Commissioner Jessica Voogd argued that the village had to prepare for a scenario where it wouldn’t get the funding at all. She asked to table the vote until the village council had a chance to hold a special meeting where they can discuss ARPA spending and where they might need to make cuts. The commissioners ended up with a compromise — they approved the contracts, and Mayor Rory Hoskins agreed to convene the meeting at some point after May 8, when commissioner-elect Michelle Melin-Rogovin will be sworn in. 

Later during the meeting, the council discussed whether to give Amidei a go-ahead to give the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce ARPA funds to begin its village marketing efforts. In light of the earlier vote, the commissioners agreed to postpone that decision until after the ARPA meeting. 

The lowest bidder for the Community Center playground, Playgroundsafe LLC, bid $154,470 for construction. The village also plans to spend $37,771.70 to buy the playground equipment from Play Illinois LLC, and pay Christopher Burke Engineering, Forest Park’s regular project consultant, $15,300 for engineering services. 

Amidei previously told the council that, if the bids are “significantly” over the original estimate, Forest Park would look into applying for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant or the Park and Recreational Facilities Construction Program (PARC) grants to cover other aspects of the community center renovation, offsetting the overall costs. According to the IDNR website, the PARC grant program is currently inactive. OSLAD grants can be used to, among other things, redevelop public land, with IDNR funding half of the project or $600,000, whichever is smaller. 

During the April 24 meeting, Amidei said it was still the plan, adding that, given the fact both grants are reimbursement-based, they can potentially be used to cover the extra spending.

Voogd emphasized that she wanted to see the playground improved, but she argued that the village was “in a tough situation” where it would have to decide where they would need to cut $70,000 worth of ARPA spending, specifically mentioning the mental health service expansion that Commissioner Maria Maxham advocated for and Chamber of Commerce marketing efforts as examples. Voogd argued that the council should hold off on the contract until it figures out where the cuts might come from.

“I’m not sure what the rush is when we have a new council being seated at the May [8] meeting,” she said. “I’m not saying we should wait 3-4 years, but we want these improvements to happen, and we have a couple of months to figure out our course of action.”

Hoskins, who made playground improvements a major priority, urged the council to approve the contract now, describing the current state of the playground as an equity issue.

“This playground is where children from families with the least resources spend quite a bit of time,” he said. “I’m going to suggest we go ahead and move forward with the improvements because that playground is horrible, and kids play on it, and it’s exposed to unhoused people who live back there, it’s right next to a trash heap in our public works [facility], and I don’t want to keep waiting just because the costs went up a little bit.”

After further discussion, the council agreed to a compromise and unanimously approved the project.

Marketing plan

During the Jan. 23 special meeting on ARPA funds, the council broadly agreed to give the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce at least $40,000 to spend on marketing the village and another $75,000 for small business grants — but they asked it to share a plan on how the money would be spent. 

During the Feb. 27 meeting, Chamber President Neil Rembos presented the plan to the council. It called for spending $6,000 on digital marketing, $12,000 on printing Welcome New Residents guides “to drive new residents to FP [sic] to patronize our businesses,” $6,000 on digital billboard ads, $10 on social media promotions, $4,000 to team up with Visit Oak Park to put digital ads on streaming services, and $2,000 for in-person events such as a Restaurant Week. The village funding would run through the chamber’s fiscal year, from May 1, 2023 to April 30, 2024.

At the time, the council didn’t direct Amidei to release the money, which is why he brought the matter up on April 24. He proposed giving the first $20,000 on May 1. On Oct. 1, the chamber would need to present “receipts and documentation,” showing how it spent that money, and if there are no issues, the village would release the remaining $20,000 on Nov. 1

But with a potential $70,000 gap to fill, the council agreed not to release anything until the ARPA meeting takes place.