RF parks walk away from the Women's Club

? Park district doesn't have the revenue to keep up the historic facility. Managing the building also diverts manpower resources.

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Citing financial concerns as well as a perceived conflict in its mission statement, the River Forest Park District announced that it was withdrawing after four years as "tenant?#34;in-principle" of the River Forest Women's Club as of April 30. After that date the park district will no longer be accepting rentals of the facility or utilize it for recreation programs. The decision, which Park District Executive Director Thomas Grundin said was made "over the past few months," stemmed both from concerns over day-to-day finances as well as the commitment required by the district in terms of focus and energy.

Grundin said continued responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the Women's Club by the park district would "negatively impact the district's day-to-day finances," adding that the district currently has no sources of capital required for the inevitable and quite expensive rehabilitation of the facility required to bring it into compliance with a wide array of federal, state and local building codes and handicapped accessibility compliance standards.

As if to underscore the expense of merely maintaining the 92-year-old building, the park district's January financial report noted that the district had spent some $1,260 on heating during a 30-day period.

"That's someone's mortgage payment going up the chimney," said Grundin.

The final decision was made in the last week during an executive session of the park board on Feb. 7, and a meeting with representatives of the Women's Club last Thursday.

Park District Board of Commissioners President Colleen Horrigan said the decision wasn't an easy one.

"It's been a difficult decision that's been months in coming, and a decision that has been debated in earnest at meetings of the park board," said Horrigan. "We feel as an elected body that we have to serve the residents of River Forest in the most prudent fashion we can, and this decision reflects that position."

Both Horrigan and Grundin expressed gratitude to the Women's Club and Board President Marilyn Organ for being allowed to be a part of what they said is a special River Forest institution.

"We have been fortunate to have been allowed the use of this tremendous community facility for the past four years," said Grundin.

What will become of the widely cherished but fiscally daunting historic structure is now squarely in the hands of the Women's Club Board of Directors. Women's Club Board President Marilyn Organ was unavailable for comment, but the park district gave clear indications that they hoped the building could be kept out of the hands of developers and remain under control of an individual or group willing to do what's necessary to keep the building as a unique community asset. 

"We all remain positive as to the fate of the building and that it will be properly preserved for the community to utilize in future years," Horrigan said.

For his part, Grundin said he hoped the board's decision would "spur action by others" in the community in order to preserve the historic structure.

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