Forest Park has applied for a grant to put in permeable pavers at Constitution Court, which would ensure most rain water seeps underground | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Forest Park is applying for over $1.03 million in state funding to remake the Constitution Court municipal parking lot with permeable pavers.

The pavers would allow rainwater to seep into the ground instead of pooling at the surface, which reduces the amount of water that goes into the sewers and with it, local flooding. Commissioner of Public Property Jessica Voogd, whose areas of responsibility include village-owned parking lots, has with mixed results pushed for Forest Park to put in more pavers. Most recently, she supported converting the Village Hall parking lot to permeable pavers but watched the village council vote 3-2 to reject the project after higher-than-expected bids put it over budget.

The council voted unanimously on Oct. 10 to apply for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Infrastructure Grant Opportunities grant, which could reimburse Forest Park for 75% of more than $1.57 million in total projects costs.  Commissioner of Accounts & Finance Maria Maxham, who voted against the village hall proposal, said she would support this application. She said while she supported the application, she wanted the village to be mindful of the $350,000 it won’t be reimbursed for, as well as engineering costs. Voogd countered that the cost savings in flood mitigation would more than make up for the upfront costs.

According to the grant application, while Constitution Court has storm drains, the village’s sewer infrastructure in the area is “undersized,” which means the sewer system can get overwhelmed during heavy rainfall.

“Forest Park experiences localized flooding during heavy rainfall events, about which numerous residents and business owners have expressed concern, and it has been a substantial, and costly, problem in the region,” the application stated. “During significant rain events, numerous streets are flooded to the level where they are un-passable and basements experience sewer backups.”

The permeable pavers would allow 97% of rainwater to seep into the ground, significantly reducing that burden. The village would put in 15,000 sq. ft. of pavers, improve the existing plaza structure and the sidewalk median, and put in two new pipes and underdrains to take care of the water that does remain.

Several months ago, the village committed to the village hall parking lot project thanks in large part to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) agreeing to foot 70% of the projected construction costs. But after the project bids came back higher than expected and with MWRD “unable” to increase their share, Maxham and commissioner Ryan Nero argued that they couldn’t justify spending the extra money. Mayor Rory Hoskins cast the deciding ‘no’ vote.

During an Oct. 10 meeting, the village council approved a $74,000 contract to repave the village hall parking lot with traditional asphalt – which is significantly less than the $178,400 the village would’ve had to pay for permeable pavers under the lowest bid.

During the public comment period, resident Steven Backman said, as someone who installed permeable pavers at his home, he supported the project, saying that one of the unexpected benefits he got from them was that they quickly got rid of melting snow.

“The sun comes out next day — it’s gone by noon,” he said.

Voogd emphasized her support, saying that the village estimates that the pavers could keep as much as 200,000 gallons of water out of sewers.

“I just think, if we’re awarded, it would be a really lovely improvement to our downtown business district,” she said. “It’s a very visible commitment the village is making to the environment and the very real challenges that we’ll be facing with unpredictable weather events that we’ve been having as of late.”

Maxham said that, while she believes that it’s a “great project” that would bring tangible benefits to the Madison Street corridor and the village as a whole, she was still worried about costs.

“Grants are great, but I think a lot of times, when we start talking about grants, it’s free money, its free money, and it is, but we still have a matching portion of that,” she said.” It’s a great project, but I think we just need to be very careful.”

Voogd responded that this was short-sighted.

“Covering it with permeable pavers continues to pay the village back by collecting hundreds of thousands of gallons of water that go into our storm system, overtaxing it, which ends up, you know, in our basements,” she said. “So, there is value that has, you know, real benefit to the community, so that money isn’t just sort of thrown away. I think choosing to ignore that or shirk our responsibilities to making long-term benefits, long-term decisions for green infrastructure is an irresponsible thing. Ignoring that is a luxury.”