At Dolphin Lake, work is continuing on a $3.25 million park renovation project but a $400,000 state grant that’s integral to the project has been suspended in a cost-cutting move by Governor Bruce Rauner.
Homewood-Flossmoor Park District Executive Director Debbie Kopas said Monday that “there is no way to know” if the state Open Space Lands Acquisition and Development (OSLAD) grant, awarded last April by former Governor Pat Quinn, will ever be released. The grant was to be used for outdoor improvements at Dolphin Lake, located at 183rd Street and Governors Highway in Homewood.
Those improvements include walking paths, a playground area, signs, parking and bioswales throughout the park.
“We’re caught in a Catch-22,” Kopas said. “We entered into a contract for this project in good faith. We were supposed to receive the grant. Now we are told that the grant is suspended, but we are still entered into the contract.”
Kopas said the park district has already paid $237,000 of the $925,000 that has been budgeted for the outdoor improvements. The Dolphin Lake clubhouse is also undergoing a substantial renovation, which constitutes the largest project costst. No OSLAD money is being used for the clubhouse work.
OSLAD and similar programs provide up to one-half the costs of projects for parks and other open land areas. Recipients pay project costs up front and are to be reimbursed later by the state.
Earlier this year, Rauner announced the suspension of monies from OSLAD and other grant programs as the state looks for ways to cut costs and balance a $1.6 billion budget deficit.
Kopas said the park district received a March 9 letter from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources saying that the OSLAD grants were suspended and asking the park district to account for any money that has been spent on projects funded under the state program.
Park board members met last week and discussed the potential loss of the OSLAD money, Kopas said.
“The board agreed to go ahead with the work at Dolphin Lake,” she said. “We will, however, be looking for ways to cut costs in the outdoor portion of the project.” To reduce costs, she said, some signs may be eliminated and walking paths may be a little shorter.
Kopas said she still expects the Dolphin Lake project to be completed in August,
If the park district doesn’t receive the state grant, Kopas said, some money for the Dolphin Lake project will be diverted from funds earmarked for improvements in 2016. She said the Flossmoor Park fieldhouse is due for renovations next year but that could be put on hold if the money is needed at Dolphin Lake.
Kopas said she and park board President Bob Haderlein have each written letters to Rauner and the state budget director. They both asked that the grant money be released so that the project can be completed with the anticipated OSLAD funds.
“We’re hoping that someone can convince the governor that we were acting in good faith when we decided to use this money,” she said.