IEPA gives OK to re-start theater construction in Oak Park

Open Door site on Ridgeland resumes build-out

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By Megan Dooley

Staff Reporter

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.

Reader Comments

7 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Dear John from from Toxic City Illinois  

Posted: February 10th, 2011 11:50 AM

Dear John McCarthy, The Oak Park Park district has installed toxic (recycled tires) and carcinogenic (polyurethane bonding agent) surfacing on the tot lots where sand and wood chips had been. On a warm day the tot lots at Field Park smell like a tire store. Years from now when the tots who crawl on that surface come down with cancer, it'll never be traced to the Oak Park park district, but that is the course. the installers wore not onlyh gloves, but masks and protective clothing.

Dave Heidorn from Oak Park  

Posted: February 10th, 2011 9:25 AM

But at Madison and Grove, we're told the only way we'll ever solve the environmental problem is to warehouse 50-100 low income singles and double the number of residences on a small block. This proves that idea entirely false. It will be nice to support a nonprofit group adding to the Village, not taking away from the hard work and investments of the neighbors around it.

John McCarthy from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 10:53 PM

In 1992, it was the Oak Park Board of Realtors building sitting on a toxic dump of dry cleaning fluid. Then it was Barrie Park. Then it was Annie's in River Forest. Now it's an abandoned convenience store on Ridgeland. Where does this end? How many of us who have lived here are now susceptible to odd forms of cancer and other illnesses? Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, thrice is enemy action. What's this, and how many more? Pathological disregard for the public's safety is what...

Gail Moran from oak park  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 7:50 PM

What a great transformation of that spot from 7/11 to theater!!

Another OP Resident  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 4:22 PM

I'm sure Interfaith and Oak Park Residence Corp have some great ideas for what to do with that vacant storefront. Why don't you give them a call and ask?

Galen Gockel  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 4:01 PM

Three cheers for Open Door, and for the landlord of that space at Harrison/Ridgeland. It has been a long struggle requiring months of patience and delays. Hopefully there will be no further boobytraps and the buildout can proceed. When is opening night?

OP Resident  

Posted: February 9th, 2011 3:34 PM

More good news for the Harrison St. Arts District. Now if we could only get something done with the long vacant storefront on Harrison just east Of Harvey. How long has it been since the grocery store that once occupied that space shut it doors? Seems like decades.

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