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District addresses list of fix-up projects

Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

A new nature center in Willow Springs, new picnic shelters in the Dan Ryan Woods and rebuilt trails along Tinley Creek are part of a $50 million renovation plan for the Cook County Forest Preserve District unveiled Monday.

The 233 projects, funded by a $50 million bond sale approved last fall, address long-neglected maintenance at the forest preserves, officials said.

"We've continued for many years to have a list of projects that need to be worked on," said Allan Mellis, the district's director of planning and development. "We have a lot of facilities that are just getting old."

The largest project is a $4 million nature center next to the popular Little Red Schoolhouse nature center in Willow Springs Woods.

"It is our most-used facility, and yet in terms of square footage, it is our smallest," Supt. Steve Bylina said.

The new center would include exhibits about plants and animals living in the preserves, as well as larger classrooms and conference rooms than are available in the historic schoolhouse.

"We don't have a large classroom setting where we can get a group of 30 or more. We currently are using a trailer for that purpose," director of resource management Richard Newhard said.

The existing historic building, built in 1886, will be preserved and may be moved a short distance, officials said.

"Some thought has been to put classrooms in there that depict what a schoolhouse looked like over 100 years ago," Newhard said.

Also included in the $50 million plan is funding for 25 pieces of major equipment and up to $4.3 million in design and construction management fees.

Not included is any money for the once-popular toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff or Dan Ryan Woods. For the first time, the slides were closed for the entire winter this past year because of disrepair.

"Some hard choices had to be made," Bylina said. "With the amount of weather conditions necessary to keep those slides open, we have a limited number ó between five and maybe 12 days on any one calendar year ó that those slides are in fact enjoyed by our patrons."

Some commissioners, including Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park), have tried to find money in the county's budget to repair the slides. Bylina said he expects to hear from them again.

"As the committee reviews it, there might be some alterations (to the plan)," Bylina said.

District critics were unhappy last fall with the lack of planning before the bond sale. Along with $50 million in bonds for the Brookfield Zoo and the Chicago Botanic Garden, the bonds will raise taxes $1 this year for the owner of a $200,000 house and $3.26 in coming years.

Officials said the project costs detailed Monday, which will be sent before the district board later this week, are still just estimates.

"We really haven't gotten into detailed programming with this," district building architect Jim Havlat said.

Other projects:

$1.2 million for renovated bathrooms.

$5.2 million for repairing and replacing picnic shelters.

$3 million for expanded or repaved parking lots

$5.3 million for trail system rebuilding.

$1.4 million to battle shoreline and creek bank erosion.

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