Wednesday, April 11, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Maywood Park District officials and other community leaders break ground on renovations to 809 Madison St. on Tuesday. | VFP
Community leaders gathered in front of the former children’s receiving home at 809 Madison St. on April 10 to break ground on a $1.8 million renovation project that would allow the building to reopen this year as a community center.
The building, which was constructed in 1919, has been vacant for more than 15 years despite previous attempts by Maywood Park District officials to renovate it, the most notable of which happened more than a decade ago.
In March 2006, the park district was awarded a $1 million grant by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) was instrumental in shepherding that funding through the General Assembly.
But after roughly $750,000 had been spent on construction work — including contracts to relatives of a former park district executive director — the building was still in no shape to open, leaving Lightford devastated and many residents frustrated and scratching their hands.
The building itself had come to symbolize, for many community members, local government dysfunction. That history was not lost on many local elected officials who attended Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting.
“I’m keeping this shovel for Kim,” said Maywood Trustee Melvin Lightford, the state senator’s father, moments after the he’d dipped it into a mound of ceremonial dirt. “She put the first million dollars into this years ago. This is Kim’s dream.”
Once complete, the new recreation center will feature numerous multipurpose rooms, meeting space and conference rooms, among many other amenities.
Thomas G. LaLonde, the vice president and managing principal with Williams Architects — the firm responsible for the renovations — said that work has actually already started and could be finished by the end of September.
The renovations are being funded by a $1.62 million state grant that the park district was given back in 2014, when former governor Pat Quinn was still in office, and $285,000 in TIF funds allocated to the park district by the village of Maywood last year.
809 Madison St., which is set to become a community center this year. | VFP
Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order in 2015 suspending a range of “nonessential” state spending, including the park district’s $1.62 million grant.
The money was eventually released, in large part because park district officials across the state and state legislators, including state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) and Lightford — both of whom had voted for the funding — protested the freeze.
On Tuesday, Maywood Park District Commission President Dawn Rone said that the groundbreaking was particularly satisfying in light of those hurdles — whether from the state or from the park district’s self-inflicted wounds.
Park district officials were responsible for matching a percentage of that $1.62 million grant. They had approached different banks attempting to secure a loan to cover the matching portion, but had run into roadblocks.
The district eventually obtained a loan from Republic Bank to finance the construction of the project.
“The $1.62 million will be reimbursed to the bank from the state, so we’ll have no outstanding debt once this is over,” said Lonette Hall, the park district’s current executive director.
“We had to work twice as hard to get money because after that  incident happened nobody was giving us any grant money because there was a red flag,” Rone said.
“Chris Welch and Kimberly Lightford had to fight for us to really get the grant and then it was shut down by Rauner, so that was another setback,” she said. “To actually see this happening right now — which is also the result of Lonette and [former park district executive director] Toni Dorris working diligently so we could get everything taken care of on time — is exciting.”
When it’s finished, the new community center would be the final phase of a complete overhaul of the park district’s central area headquarters at the corner of 9th Ave. and Madison St.
Last October, park district officials cut the ribbon on a $500,000 exterior redesign of the 809 building’s surrounding grounds, which now feature Ping-Pong and game tables, a resurfaced parking lot, a flower bed island, brand new fencing, t-ball and soccer fields designed for smaller children, and a picnic shelter, among other improvements. VFP
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