Sunday, December 2, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews
Featured image: Maywood Park District Commissioners cut the ribbon on the Lightford Recreation Center. | Shanel Romain
The historic former children’s receiving home at 809 Madison St. in Maywood is finally operable again after sitting empty for nearly two decades. The facility, which is now a community center operated by the Maywood Park District, also has a name — the Lightford Recreation Center.
Maywood Park District officials held a soft opening for the renovated facility on Dec. 1. Park district commissioners revealed the name of the new center in the presence of its namesake, state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th).
Lightford, a Maywood resident, helped the district secure millions in state funding to open the building — a process that had been marked by disappointment. On Saturday, however, Lightford’s efforts paid off.
“Maywood has blessed me,” the state senator, who also has a hospital emergency department in Chicago named after her, said during the Dec. 1 opening, which was invite-only. “I’m so surprised. They caught me off guard. But its been a long time in the making.”
In March 2006, the park district was awarded a $1 million grant by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Lightford 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.
After a new executive director and park district board took the helm, the park district received a new round of funding that Lightford was instrumental in allocating.
The most recent renovations were funded through 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.
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 Lightford and state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) — both of whom had voted for the funding — protested the freeze.
Executive Assistant, Oralethea Davenport, Commissioner John Rice, Commissioner Alise Buckmeier, Sen. Kimberly Lightford, Commissioner Dawn Williams-Rone, Commissioner Terrance Jones, Executive Director Lonette Hall and Commissioner Arnettra Burnside. | Maywod Park District
On Saturday, Maywood Park District Commissioner Terrance Jones fought back tears as he described the journey to those gathered on the renovated facility’s first floor.
“We have been working diligently every step of the way to make this happen,” Jones said. “Thank you for believing in this park district. We have so many visions and dreams for this community and I’m glad you’re here today to witness history.”
“This building has been closed to this community for a long time,” said Park District Commissioner Dawn Rone. “If you have a fully functional park district in your community, it increases your property values by 90 percent. This is phase one. We have a lot more to do.”
Commissioner Arnettra Burnside thanked “all of our public officials who worked so hard and diligently,” along with park district patrons while Commissioner John Rice thanked the late park district commissioner and community activist Bill Hampton, who died earlier this year.
Attendees at the Dec. 1 soft opening for the Lightford Recreation Center course through the newly renovated building. | Shanel Romain
Antonette Dorris, the former park district executive who was at the district when it fought for the second round of state funding and private financing, thanked the commissioners.
“I really want to thank this board for allowing me to spread my wings in a position that took leadership, tough skin, and the ability to network and reach out to Welch and Lightford,” Dorris said. “Because no matter how you move, unless you move as a team, you’re not going to win.”
The renovated three-floor building features multipurpose rooms, conference rooms, a third-floor community space and a dance studio, among many other amenities. Officials are still in the process of furnishing the building.
I’m really excited to be part of this park district commission, because they do such good work,” said Commissioner Alise Buchmeier. “I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
Lonette Hall, the park district’s current executive director, said that the district is planning a public grand opening on Dec. 15, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. VFP
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