Day after day, Terry Griffin gazes out her window and sees a rusted water tower and shack — she can’t avoid them. When she goes into her living room, she sees the dilapidated structures to the east, rising outside her window with the morning sun. If she works in her home office, she sees the two old structures from the south, fixed in the ground like a rotten sore. They follow her, the first thing she sees when she opens and last thing she sees when she closes her condo door.
“It’s a constant eyesore,” she said. But she doubts she’ll see something done about them during her lifetime.
Griffin, 75, president of the William Street Condominium association, has complained to several agencies about the rusted structures at the end of the Harlem and Lake Green Line station, most recently on Nov. 24 when she sent a letter to the president of the Chicago Transit Authority. The CTA owns both the water tower and shed. But the agency can’t even confirm that they’ve received Griffin’s complaints.
“We have checked our records for the past two years and we have not received any complaints about the tower or shed,” CTA spokesman Jon Kaplan wrote in an email. Only after Wednesday Journal re-sent him Griffin’s letter a month later did Kaplan confirm “we have just received it.”
The villages of River Forest and Forest Park have also had trouble getting their voices heard within that organization.
Steve Glinke, director of the Forest Park Public Health and Safety Department, said he first contacted the CTA about the two structures five years ago when the water tower’s pipe broke in the summer of 2011. The water tower and shed, constructed in June 1967, service various mechanical systems at the Harlem rail shop, including the fire prevention sprinkler and rail car washer systems. The water tower holds about 75,000 gallons of water, and there’s “more water going in there than they can ever possibly imagine needing,” Glinke said, adding, “I have to imagine it’s not compliant with contemporary codes.”
Glinke said he met repeatedly with representatives from the CTA, telling them the structures violated Forest Park’s property maintenance standards. He still has business cards for a CTA project manager for Capital Construction Infrastructure, and the design oversight manager for the Capital Improvement Program Management at the CTA. Officials got as far as hiring an engineering firm to decide whether it was cheaper to tear down or repaint the structures.
Glinke remembers meeting with a group of engineers about the project. In June 2016, he had an appointment with CDM Smith about the structures.
A decision on their future was supposed to be included in an upcoming CTA capital improvement plan at that time. But after the meeting with the engineering firm, Glinke said the bureaucracy shrugged its shoulders. Silence.
“Promises made are promises broken,” Glinke said. “The CTA, we can’t force them to [do anything], and we would be reluctant to get into some kind of pissing match with someone of the scale of the CTA because they’ve got rooms full of lawyers and we’ve got one.”
River Forest has struggled too with what to do about the structures, although they technically fall within Forest Park’s village boundaries.
In 2009, Rick Gillis, then traffic and safety commissioner for River Forest, exchanged emails with Griffin, and said he talked to a CTA official who told him construction on the two structures might start in 2012, would take four years, and that the CTA only has money for engineering so far. Nothing happened.
In 2013, Griffin followed up with Village Administrator Eric Palm, telling him “if the CTA will not paint these structures, perhaps our village and the village of Forest Park could share the cost with the CTA.”
Palm said he, too, has complained to the CTA about the structures over the years. He called the CTA a few years ago, and left a message for someone to call him back with information. The CTA never returned his call. After Griffin filed her complaint in November, Palm again reached out to the CTA’s government affairs team. It took him a few days to even find the right contact.
“The difficulty for the village is these properties, they rest on property not within our jurisdiction, so I can’t issue them a citation or ticket or whatever or say, ‘Hey can you fix this?’ It’s usually met with deaf ears,” Palm said. “The transit agencies certainly have their challenges when it comes to funding; this is not high on their priority list. It’s an unfortunate situation; it’s unfortunate they can’t fix it, take them down, or paint or what have you. We wouldn’t let our infrastructure go into that condition, so it’s sad that they do.”
A CTA spokesperson said the project has been in the planning stage since 2015 and that CTA officials prefer the removal of the tower and shed over a repaint job. But final decisions on the scope of the project will not be made until the project is funded. When will that be? “That time frame is still to be determined, due to the unknown state of funding for the state capital program,” Kaplan said.
The CTA currently has a $33 million budget shortfall, caused, in part, by a decline in state funding for the transit service.
Still, “they’ve got a capital expenditure program to upgrade certain stations,” Griffin said. “I think that’s where they’re spending their money. Their priorities are probably the mayor’s [Rahm Emanuel]. Whatever he considers, they have upgraded.”
Twelve years ago when Griffin first moved into her apartment on the 400 block of William Street, the view wasn’t so bad. Trees blocked the rusted out shed; the water tower wasn’t quite so decrepit.
“It wasn’t a deal killer when we bought it,” she said. “But I bet if we try and sell it now, it might be.”