Environmental Cleanup of New Park District HQ Runs Into Deeply Buried Hidden Costs

A rendering of John Ronan Architects’ plan for the Park District’s new headquarters. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)A rendering of John Ronan Architects’ plan for the Park District’s new headquarters. (Courtesy of Chicago Park District)

Construction on the Chicago Park District’s new $65 million headquarters in Brighton Park is already $4 million over budget just months after the project broke ground, demonstrating how challenging it is to redevelop former industrial sites, officials said.

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The 17-acre parcel at 4830 S. Western Ave. was acquired by the city in 2018 for $8 million after sitting vacant since 2011. Various metal and steel manufacturers had formerly occupied the site, and a number of prospective buyers had walked away from the property due to anticipated remediation costs, according to Heather Gleason, the Park District’s director of planning and development.

Speaking at Wednesday’s meeting of the Park District’s board of commissioners, Gleason described the unforeseen conditions construction crews have encountered since the groundbreaking, necessitating a $4 million change order.

The Park District had been aware of the “severe need for environmental remediation and cleanup” when it purchased the Brighton Park lot, including the presence of two contaminated “hot spots” that required capping, she said. Five underground storage tanks had been identified for removal, as well as remnant building foundations and concrete slabs.

All of these issues were accounted for in the $65 million price tag. Officials didn’t expect to discover nine additional buried storage containers, including a 9,000-gallon (emptied) heating oil tank, in need of excavation. More mounds of concrete were also unearthed deep underground, Gleason said. 

In other spots, soil wasn’t solid enough to support planned structures. “It was almost like dust,” said Gleason, and required stabilization through a technique known as “undercutting,” in which unsuitable soil is removed and replaced with stone aggregate.

“That’s the reason these properties sit vacant,” Gleason said. “They really do complicate redevelopment.”

Though challenging from a construction standpoint, the project’s potential to transform its surrounding neighborhood outweighs the negatives, she said.

Brighton Park has an open space need of 66.68 acres, placing it in the top five park-deficient communities in Chicago, according to the Park District.

The headquarter campus will make a dent in that deficit by incorporating amenities for the community, including a park field house, playground, athletic fields, grand lawn and a natural area.

“This is kind of what environmental justice looks like,” said Gleason. “We believe that only a significant effort from a government agency like the Park District could really get the site cleaned and developed and turned back into a space that the community could be proud of.”

The change order request was approved by the board.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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