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Cost to fix slides higher than thought

Thursday, March 22, 2007
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

The popular but broken-down toboggan slides at Swallow Cliff and other Cook County Forest Preserve sites would cost $3.7 million to repair and put back into service, according to a report issued Wednesday.
That's far more than the $1.5 million in needed fixes that officials previously had cited. Prices have inflated since estimates first were made in 2001, the report says, and repairs are needed at all five toboggan sites.
Repairing just the six slides at Swallow Cliff near Palos Park -- the only site that has more than two slides -- would cost $1.3 million.
All slides have been closed due to disrepair since late 2004.
But Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman (R-Orland Park), an advocate for repairing the slides, is hopeful the family attraction has a future.
"There's a lot of different ideas out there," Gorman said. "There was an idea just sent to me from this company in England where they could keep it year-round."
Previous attempts to privatize the slides have failed, but Gorman started laying the groundwork for a new attempt when she quizzed district officials Wednesday about the effect of year-round activities. Officials said it definitely would boost the district's overall revenue.
LaGrange businessman Shawn Temple was in Gorman's office Wednesday pitching his idea to coat the slides in "snowflex," an artificial material that mimics snow and already is used in Britain.
"I'd like to create an urban snow sports center at Swallow Cliff," Temple said. "There's a huge investment we'd make, at probably no cost to the county."
Commissioners have been cold to other proposals for unorthodox use of the slides -- such as "zorbing," where people would roll down the slides inside giant inflatable balls. A plan for a districtwide concession management contract that would include the slides collapsed last year when the county broke off negotiations with the company that won the bid.
District officials have resisted attempts to include the money for the slide repairs in previous budgets, saying the facilities earn little revenue for the district and are expensive to maintain.
The new report says the slides require 4 inches of snow and consistent temperatures of 25 degrees or lower. Between 1998 to 2004, the slides were open only 44 times, earning just $54,927.
"Traditional toboggan slides, with structured runs, as opposed to open area hills that rely on natural snow, have virtually disappeared due to unfavorable weather conditions in conjunction with the expense of operations and liability," the report says.
"It is for these reasons that refrigerated slides have been installed where feasible or slide locations have been converted (to) sledding hills."
Artificially refrigerating the county's 14 slides would cover them in smooth ice from late November to early March, said a proposal written last month by an Indiana engineering firm and included in the report. The slides could be used any time it was less than 50 degrees.
But the slides still would need repairs first, and the company would install water pipes, electrical supplies and ice-making equipment. Total cost for all slides: $21.5 million.
The county has slides at Deer Grove Woods, Bemis Woods, Jens Jensen Preserve, Swallow Cliff and the Dan Ryan Woods. A detailed inspection report of each site lists dozens of problems as minor as peeling paint and as serious as crumbling concrete foundations.
The report will go to the district's recreation committee, led by Gorman, for further discussion.


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