Field of dreams: Skokie Sports Park expansion advances
Ariel Tsesis, 7, of Skokie takes some swings in the batting cages Saturday at the Skokie Sports Park . The Park District is planning to add lighted baseball fields next to the current park. | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media
SKOKIE SPORTS PARK EXPANSION
Plans: Lighted baseball fields on 17 acres of property
Location: East of the Skokie Sports Park, 3459 Oakton St.
First Public Hearing: 7 p.m. June 12 at McCracken Middle School, 8000 East Prairie Road
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:30AM
The on-again off-again on-again dream of expanding the Skokie Sports Park to include lighted baseball fields looks to be permanently on, much to the delight of Skokie Park District Executive Director Mark Schneiderman.
Schneiderman and the Park District have long held out hope of using a 17-acre site next to the Sports Park near Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard for state-of-the-art baseball diamonds, but plans were always complicated because the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District owns the land.
A plan drawn up in 1993 called for four lighted baseball fields including a semi-pro field as well as soccer fields. But those plans are obsolete and new plans are being created.
“The Sports Park is a regional facility,” said Schneiderman. “A lot of people from Skokie use it but there’s a heck of a lot of people from Wilmette, Evanston, and Chicago who use it, too. It’s regional in every way.”
Part of the reason for that is its location at 3459 Oakton St. Located just west of McCormick Boulevard and near neighboring Evanston, it provides easy access for other communities.
The current Sports Park offers a miniature golf course and a driving range as well as batting cages.
Many wrinkles had to be smoothed over before the Park District’s vision for a field of dreams could become reality.
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago filed a lawsuit several years ago against ComEd and Nicor, former owners of the property, which ran a manufactured gas plant facility on the site for decades.
The lawsuit cited federal legislation emphasizing that owners of a facility where hazardous substances were disposed of are responsible for cleanup costs. For years, the site was enclosed by fencing and covered with grass, trees and shrubs, unpaved railroad spur tracks and the remains of some of the former manufactured-gas plant buildings.
But the Water Reclamation District and the utilities suspended their lawsuit to conduct a more thorough environmental investigation.
The investigation confirmed that there was contamination, which Park District and Water Reclamation District officials already knew because of their own testing.
Cleanup of the site is part of the project, but then the Water Reclamation District announced that it wanted the property for expansion of a nearby sewage facility, thereby dashing the hopes of Park District leaders once again.
“This would have been a crown jewel of the Park District,” Schneiderman said several years ago when he learned of the disappointing news.
Schneiderman didn’t stay disappointed for long.
The Water Reclamation District changed its tune, offering the property for Park District use, and the plan was back on — this time ostensibly for good.
Nicor is holding a first public hearing on plans for the site at 7 p.m. June 12 at McCracken Middle School, 8000 East Prairie Road. All aspects of the project will be discussed, and preliminary drawings will be displayed.
Schneiderman said that there will be more community meetings held by the Park District before plans are final.
“When the new park is developed, it will become even more of a regional facility,” Schneiderman predicted.
Remediation of the site will begin in July with trucks coming in to remove materials, Schneiderman said. It will take a year to a year-and-a-half to complete the process.
“They’re going to have to bring in soil, take out soil,” he said. “We have plans with Nicor for the site to be left in a certain condition so work can begin.”
The Park District will then plant trees with the village on the site.
“This project has been on our radar screen since 1993,” Schneiderman said. “Back then, we thought it was a done deal. Not long ago, we thought it was dead. We had no idea it would even be part of the equation.”
But now the lighted baseball fields are back on again, and the Park District believes the last inning in the topsy-turvy game has finally been played.