Gov. Quinn during a press conference in front of the Maywood Park District to announce $1.62 million in funding to renovate the District’s 809 Building. Sen. Lightford (below). Photos by Michael Romain for the Village Free Press.
Sunday, October 26, 2014 || By Michael Romain || Updated: 12:43 PM
Maywood’s elected representatives are more vigilant about these new funds, considering the $1 million grant that was awarded for the 809 Building in 2006 — today, the building still sits empty
MAYWOOD | Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was in Maywood yesterday to deliver a $1.62 million dummy check to the Maywood Park District. The money will go toward renovating the building at 809 W. Madison Avenue. The funds are the result of what Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood) described as three years of legislative legwork to create a separate pool of funds for park districts struggling to compete with ones in wealthier communities.
She said that she was motivated to work on the legislation, which was in the form of an amendment to an already existing bill, after realizing that the park districts in Broadview, Forest Park and Maywood were applying for state grants year after year, but weren’t getting any funding.
“I had to collaborate with the Director of Natural Resources for us to draft language to do a set-aside,” she said. “So 10 percent of the [state funds for park districts] goes to a pool of money that is specifically for park districts in communities considered low-income or distressed, or that can’t compete with park districts in other communities.”
Senate Bill 1341 provides financially distressed local governments across the state with Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grants for up to 90 percent of the total cost of projects. Before, the grants would only cover up to 50 percent. In July, the Governor, along with Sen. Lightford and Rep. Chris Welch (D-7th), presented a $1.2 million dummy check to the Broadview Park District. And in August, they dropped off a $2.5 million check to the Forest Park Park District.
Rep. Welch, who was responsible for helping to push Sen. Lightford’s legislation for the dedicated fund through the Illinois House of Representatives, said that he had been advocating for the Maywood Park District in Springfield for several months before Gov. Quinn presented the check on Saturday.
“In January and February, while I was on maternity leave, I made sure I pulled all my entities together, the Park District being one, and I made sure I got a letter of support attached to the Park District’s application and we just hawked it and advocated for it and we’re glad we’ve been heard,” Welch said. “If there’s a park that qualifies [for the funding], this is it.”
According to a statement Rep. Welch’s office released yesterday, the grant money is part of the $50 million Parks and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC) program, which is funded through Gov. Quinn’s Illinois Jobs Now! construction program.
“PARC provides investments to eligible local governments for park and recreation construction projects. Eligible projects include land acquisition, development, architectural planning, construction, rehabilitation and improvements. The PARC program may provide up to 75 percent of approved project costs, with the exception of local governments defined as “disadvantaged,” which are eligible for up to 90 percent funding,” according to Welch’s statement.
“This is an investment in the future of Illinois,” Gov. Quinn said yesterday.
In addition to Sen. Lightford and Rep. Welch, Gov. Quinn was accompanied on the steps outside of the Park District’s Ninth Avenue headquarters by Maywood Mayor Edwenna Perkins, Park District Board President Bill Hampton, members of Districts 89 and 209 school boards, local community leaders and other area residents.
“We want to make sure we build a place where people young and old….can make memories,” the Governor said.
“This is a new opportunity that we’ve been given,” said Theresa Kelly, a member of the District 209 school board. “I’ve been in Maywood all my life and I’m so happy to see someone taking interest in our community and helping to bring our kids a safe haven that they can enjoy and build on.”
“Investment in local park districts is an investment in the future of Illinois communities,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller noted in Welch’s statement. “This renovated facility in Maywood will help maintain a high quality of life that is vital for attracting young families.”
The last time the state awarded the Park District money – Lightford was left “devastated”
This isn’t the first time the Maywood Park District has received significant state funds. In March 2006, the Park District was awarded a $1 million grant by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Sen. Lightford was also instrumental in shepherding that funding through the General Assembly.
According to the DCEO’s online grant tracker tool, the amount disbursed to the Park District was $750,000, which was transferred in phases between March 2006 and December 2009. The money was allocated for the rehabilitation of the Park District’s recreational center located at 809 W. Madison Avenue.
But after at least $750,000 spent, the ‘809 Building’ is yet to be open. At the time, the Park District’s then-executive director, Al McKinnor, was responsible for overseeing the project. Documents from a state audit conducted on the rehabilitation project reveal that McKinnor contracted construction work on the building out to relatives and that the state required him to pay back at least a portion of the money that was spent. However, the audit didn’t find any substantial wrongdoing. It is unclear whether or not McKinnor paid the money back.
An analysis of the minutes from Park District board meetings held between 2006 and 2009 show a pattern of inconsistencies in McKinnor’s status reports on the project. At certain points, McKinnor stated that the building’s completion was mere months away, even presenting the board with revised timelines and architectural details, but only after a rash of resident complaints that the information wasn’t being provided regularly.
Presently, the ‘809 Building’s’ interior looks like the site of an abandoned construction project, with loose wiring exposed and the only barriers separating the rooms are their metal frames.
“I was shocked to find out how much had not been done with a $1 million investment” said Trustee Michael Rogers, a certified architect and the former Illinois president of the American Institute of Architects.
“[With that kind of money] you can get a lot done. So, [with this recent grant] the Park District should be able to finish that up. It will be great to have that. I parallel that building with the Soldiers Home [on Lake and First Avenue]. Those are both buildings that mean something [historically].”
The building’s basic skeleton, however, appears to be in shape. Although it hasn’t been done satisfactorily to many people, work has been done on the building.
“All we have to do is put walls in and reconfigure,” said Park District Commissioner and past board president Terrance Jones. “We’ve got 14 usable spaces of various sizes for all types of activities — Zumba, music classes, tutoring, mentoring, chess.”
That isn’t sufficient consolation, though, for Sen. Lightford, who expressed disappointment that, after nearly $1 million invested, the building has yet to be open.
“That was heartbreaking for me,” she said. “To be honest, it was the most devastating thing in my career so far.”
She said that there are several factors, such as stronger oversight measures, that make her confident that the money will be better spent this time around.
“This grant is coming from a different pot of funding,” she said. “There are criteria and an audit system locked into this grant system, whereas the previous grant was administered by DCEO — it was a construction grant. That was dealt with a little differently. Back then, the shortfalls along the way weren’t noticed until the very end.”
“I’d love to be part of the implementation of this along the way to make sure we cross every ‘T’ and dot every ‘I’ and that there’s a facility for kids,” Lightford said.
Jones mentioned that the funds will be handled differently, because the personalities and the process will be different this time around. Al McKinnor has since resigned as executive director and replaced first by Enoch Clarke-Bey and then by Lawrence Broughton, who currently holds the position.
“This time there’s a brand new board and this board is going to be fiscally responsible with the dollars,” Jones said. “We have an executive director that’s competent. But, even still, this project will not be ran through our executive director. We’re going to hire qualified people for [different construction-related jobs]. We’ll comply with minority and female business aspects of the process.
We’re going to make sure we maximize everything. We’ll have some input on the quality of materials, who gets hired and who works here. There will be monthly reports given to the board and those should be available to the community in an appropriate amount of time.”
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The $1.62 million isn’t promised
One major aspect of the grant that went largely unmentioned yesterday is the fact that the $1.62 million is not guaranteed. As part of the grant’s requirements, park districts have to match the state’s funds with 10 percent of their own money. That means, before the Maywood Park District receives $1.62 million — it has to raise $162,000 of matching funds itself. And it has only two years from the time it signs the documentation to raise the money and have the project completed, according to Commissioner Jones.
When asked how much of that matching fund amount the Park District has raised to date, Jones only said “very little.” The Park District had actually begun a campaign, called ’90/10,’ to raise matching grants earlier this year. The district formed fundraising committees, solicited expertise from residents, held informational sessions and hosted various fundraisers. However, Jones said that the community didn’t seem to respond well to their efforts and the campaign fizzled.
“But this type of event and this type of energy will help bring more dollars for us to make this happen,” Jones said, noting that the district expects to sign papers finalizing the grant in December.
Willie Ash, a Berkeley Public Library trustee, said the library is using state funds to install a roof and a parking lot. He recommended the Park District begin working on engineering and construction plans now.
“It takes a little bureaucracy to go through the [construction] process and get all the stuff together, so you have to start right away. We ran into all kinds of issues,” he said.
While he didn’t disclose the district’s budget for the building — a statement by Rep. Welch’s office pegged the total estimated project cost at $1.8 million — Jones said that the board has accommodated for cost overruns and inflationary effects. He also stressed that, whatever the ultimate costs, the plan would cost less than the grant amount and that it will be under-budget.
“We’re going to make some sacrifices and we’re going to make sure we adhere to the plan, because as we start seeing things go overboard, we’ll start questioning those issues,” he said.
The capital funds for the 809 Building aside, however, there is still a separate discussion to be had about where the money will come from to fund the programming and staff once the building is complete. The $1.62 million can only be used to rehab the 809 building. Before that discussion occurs, however, Jones indicated that the board’s focus is on raising funds, finishing the building renovations and opening the doors to the public.
“We’ll be working more aggressively now than ever to make that happen,” he said. “There will be no money given until papers are signed and the board is held accountable for everything. We’ll be able to start construction as soon as we have the funds, but before you have that you have to have a plan.” VFP
Correction: A previous version of this article had incorrectly listed the address of the 809 W. Madison building. This article has since been revised.
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