Lake Arlington path among park projects halted with state grant freeze
Frozen state grants mean suburban districts must rethink plans
Renovations to Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights, Einstein Park in Mount Prospect, Apache Park in Des Plaines and more are all on hold, now that Gov. Bruce Rauner has suspended park grants.
As recently as January, 72 Illinois communities were awarded $26 million in grants from the Department of Natural Resources Managed Open Space Land Acquisition and Development program.
This week Rauner announced that those grants, as well as Park and Recreational Facility Construction grants, have been suspended indefinitely, leaving park districts across the suburbs unable to move forward with projects that have already been planned.
"Many state programs are running out of money because majority party legislators knowingly voted for a budget that intentionally left our state with a $1.6 billion hole," said a statement released by Rauner's spokeswoman. "As a result, the governor's budget office is taking actions necessary to address the fiscal crisis that the governor inherited."
For Arlington Heights that means a long-planned upgrade to Lake Arlington is on hold, said Parks Director Steve Scholten.
The $400,000 grant would have widened and repaved the path around the lake, adding exercise stations along the way; added a fishing pier; expanded the boat dock; and paid for landscaping, Scholten said. Though the project was only in the planning stages, Scholten said they had hoped to start work this fall.
Scholten said the park board hasn't yet discussed if it can pay for the entire program without government support.
The layout of Lake Arlington has been of heightened interest since a woman walking on the path in 2013 died after a collision with a young bicyclist. The park district held public meetings and has tried to improve path safety, but the renovations would help provide more space for walkers and joggers as well as bikers.
Mount Prospect, meanwhile, was planning to renovate Einstein Park this year with help from $376,000 in grant funds, said Park District Executive Director Gregory Kuhs. The project would have included a new playground and other amenities, but Kuhs said that is in question now.
The Golf Maine Park District has had two state grants suspended that would help with building and grounds renovations at Dee Park, at Emerson and Dee roads in Des Plaines.
A PARC grant was to cover $474,700 of the building renovation, with the park district itself responsible for only $158,300, Golf Maine Executive Director John Jekot said. The OSLAD grant of $250,000 would have paid for exactly half the planned renovations to the park itself, he added.
A $1.9 million PARC grant, now suspended, would have built a multipurpose field house with an indoor soccer field and basketball court next to Spring Wood Middle School in Hanover Park.
"We're definitely disappointed that it's been put on hold, but we hope it isn't canceled," said Jon Duesing, vice president of the Hanover Park Park District's board of commissioners. With park district administrators unavailable Friday, Duesing couldn't recall the exact percentage of the total project the grant covered. But he knows there is no way the field house can go forward without it.
Des Plaines was planning to use a $251,000 OSLAD grant to pay for half the cost of renovations at Apache Park, located in a low-income area of town, said park district Executive Director Don Miletic. Renovations included a soccer field, walking path, a gazebo, community garden, picnic shelter and additional lighting.
The project would have brought in jobs for contractors, improved property values and reduced crime, Miletic said.
"Having a good quality park system is a benefit in the long term for the whole community," Miletic said. "It was a great project in an area of town that needed it."
Miletic said he and other park districts are just waiting to see what will happen next.
"We're one of many," he added. "We're hoping that eventually it will come our way."
Although former Gov. Pat Quinn announced the grant money after he had been voted out of office, park district officials hoped the money was safe.
"The dollars for these grants are funded through a portion of the real estate transfer tax, so we thought the money was already there," Kuhs said. "We anticipated there might be some changes with Gov. Rauner coming in, but we didn't expect this."