In one of his first public rallies since declaring himself a candidate for president of the Cook County Board, Commissioner Anthony Peraica (R-16th) is hosting a picnic on the grounds of the now-shuttered Cermak Pool in Lyons.
The Aug. 21 event is being billed as the opening salvo in a campaign to get the pool, which was at one time the largest swimming pool in Illinois but which closed in 2002, transformed into an aquatic center that would serve residents in Lyons, Cicero, Berwyn, Proviso and Riverside townships. Peraica is a Riverside resident. The picnic will be held in the Cermak Woods picnic grounds adjacent to the pool, 7600 W. Ogden Ave., beginning at 11 a.m.
“It’s been four years now [since the pool closed] and nothing’s been done,” Peraica said. “We need to put pressure on our leaders and get some momentum going.
“Every budget time we get close to it, but the funding doesn’t materialize.”
According to Steve Mayberry, public information officer for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, the State of Illinois has promised funds to renovate Cermak Pool in Lyons and Green Lake Pool in Calumet City, but the county has never received the funding.
“Thirty-one million dollars in Illinois FIRST funds were earmarked for the [forest preserve] district,” Mayberry said. “We are in receipt of $18.5 million of that. There’s still a balance that we’ve not received, and we don’t know when we’re going to. That’s where the dollars for the pools are.”
Both pools were closed in 2002 because of their physical condition, Mayberry said. Named after former Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, who served as a forest preserve commissioner from 1922-31, the 1-million-gallon pool opened around 1930 on the grounds of the former Cream City Amusement Park, which operated there in the first two decades of the century.
“Instead of patching things and throwing more and more money at them, the decision was made to close them and find alternate funding [to renovate them],” Mayberry said.
That’s what happened with the district’s Whealan Pool on the far Northwest Side of Chicago. That pool was completely overhauled in a multimillion-dollar project that turned Whealan into an aquatic center complete with a zero-depth pool, renovated bathhouses and showers, water slides, a separate baby pool and other amenities.
“We’d like to see, going forward, something modeled after that as a response at Cermak Pool,” Mayberry said. “Cermak Pool is definitely on the radar. It’s something we want to get done.”
It’s unlikely that the Illinois FIRST money earmarked for the pools will come through the pipeline any time soon. The state has failed to fund many state projects that originally qualified for that state funding due to the state’s own financial woes.
The Forest Preserve District does have an alternate source for funds, provided by the passage of Illinois Senate Bill 83. That bill, in which state legislators overrode a veto from Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, enabled the Forest Preserve District to borrow $100 million to address its crumbling infrastructure and improve its facilities.
To date, $25 million of that total has been earmarked for infrastructure improvements at Brookfield Zoo and another $25 million slated for improvements to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The other $50 million is to be used to address the forest preserve properties.
However, said Peraica, none of the $50 million will go toward the renovation of Cermak Pools, since the board passed an appropriation for that project?”using Illinois FIRST funds?”in 2003.
The Forest Preserve District has gone so far as to draw up preliminary plans for the pool renovation, but that effort has stalled as the district waits for the rest of the money to come from the state.
Peraica said he has met with local state representatives, including House Speaker Michael Madigan to gain their support to help lobby the governor to release the Illinois FIRST funds promised previously.
“The key point is to get Speaker Madigan on board,” Peraica said. “[The Cermak Pool project] is one that’s been around for the last four years.
“I think we can get this done.”