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By Megan Dooley
After months of waiting, Open Door Repertory has finally received word from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency that it's OK to resume their work that would transform a former convenience store into a 60-seat theater.
A letter of remediation from the state agency, which acknowledged the complete cleanup of contaminated soil at the site, arrived a week ago Tuesday, and project coordinators are eager to jump-start the stalled construction process.
"We are over the moon," said Mary Pat Sieck, Open Door's artistic director. "It's been a very long stretch."
The project began last May, when the Oak Park theater company began the process of carving out a modest theater inside a former convenience store building, located at the corner of Ridgeland and Harrison. But the team quickly hit a roadblock when soil at the site was found to be contaminated, likely from a leaky pipe connecting gas tanks and pumps when the property was a gas station decades back.
Thus began a massive cleanup effort that involved removing soil down nearly 11 feet below the surface, and carting it off to toxic waste dumps.
"Once this was discovered, it had to be done," said Sieck of the contamination removal.
Throughout the process, she said soil samples were taken from the site, tested and sent to the EPA for review. When the cleanup wrapped up in late September, there was nothing left to do but wait. "We were told it could be anywhere from eight to 10 months," said Sieck, before Open Door could proceed with its project.
Now that they've been cleared, Sieck said everyone is eager to get back to work. The theater company has been unable to stage a performance in the interim. "It was wiser not to," she said. "We don't really have a space to work out of."
There also wasn't enough money to rent a space. The organization managed to raise $100,000 as of last spring, but that was earmarked for the construction project.
And now that's what it will be used for. The next step in the process is to get the contractors lined up. "It's a matter now of having to secure them again, and also to get them in the order the work has to be done," said Sieck, noting that some contractors are currently committed elsewhere. She expects to take another two or three weeks at minimum to get that piece of the project organized before construction can begin.
"We'd love to be started in early March. That's our hope," Sieck said.