Winter came early for the area around Marion Street and South Boulevard, according to business owners and residents near that intersection in Oak Park's Pleasant District.
That's because of a virtual blizzard of tiny flakes from insulation boards being installed at the 250-unit luxury apartment building under construction at 1133 South Boulevard.
The flakes are similar in size to the white material inside of a snow globe and have found their way into every nook and cranny in the area. That includes cracks in the bluestone sidewalks, brock streets, grassy areas and parkways, parked cars and a number of businesses and residences as far south as Pleasant Street.
Larger flakes of foam insulation also were littered around the construction site and could be found in nearby streets and alleys.
Oak Park Chief Building Official Steve Cutaia said in a telephone interview that Romeoville-based Kole Construction, a subcontractor for the project by Lincoln Properties, has been ticketed three times over the last few weeks for failure to control airborne dust and particles, contain construction debris and maintain the public right of way.
Representatives of the company will appear before an administrative judge at Oak Park Village Hall at 1 p.m. on Oct. 25, where Kole could face fines.
A company spokesman declined to speak on the record about tickets, but the firm sent a letter to the village on Oct. 16 stating that Kole "sincerely apologizes for any inconveniences caused by the foam particles."
"Please know that we truly appreciate your patience during the duration of our work," the letter notes. "Currently we are 85 percent complete with the (exterior finishing insulation system) installation. Good news is that in a few short weeks Kole Construction will be 100 percent done."
Wild Onion Tied House, 1111 South Boulevard, is directly adjacent to the construction project and one of the hardest hit by the foam flakes. Wild Onion general manager Cory Sweet told Wednesday Journal the restaurant had to close its outdoor dining area a month early because of the building material falling from the project.
"It looks like snow," he said.
He said staff has worked hard to keep it out of the restaurant, but the persistent foam flakes have blown in through vents and in cracks under the doors. Wild Onion began placing wet rags at the base of doorways to block the flakes.
Wild Onion's diligence has kept the business relatively free of the foam flakes, but other businesses in the area have not had as much luck.
Some were unaware where the material was coming from.
Brad Knaub, co-owner of Carnivore Oak Park, an independently owned butcher shop at 1042 Pleasant St., said he's been sweeping up the foam material for months.
Knaub said he's swept it up several times but customers track it in on their feet.
"It's pretty much a non-factor for us, but it's just irritating," he said.
He noted that business has been up since the project started because of workers coming to his establishment to purchase sandwiches for lunch.
"Those guys eat like horses," he said.
Business owners are not the only ones burdened by the foam flakes. One resident who lives near the project said it has gathered in his front yard and walkway, but not much of it has made its way into his apartment.
"My girlfriend and I are pretty good about cleaning it up," he said, adding that "a few months ago it was pretty bad."
"I understand they have a job to do, and the weather [blowing the foam around] – they can't help that," he said.
Cutaia said he's received roughly a half a dozen calls about the foam showering down on the area and he has inspected the area every time it's been reported – sometimes within the hour.
"It's like anything in the air; we're concerned with it," Cutaia said. "The village is trying our hardest to get code compliance and maintain a safe environment."
He said foam insulation boards are commonly used in construction projects like Eleven33 and added that Kole Construction has been "very cooperative" in the village's efforts to keep the area clean of debris.
"They've been sweeping the streets religiously," he said.
While the construction litter is unavoidable in the area for now, Kole emphasized in its letter to the village that exterior insulation finishing systems "provide great benefits to the environment" and that "the foam particles are recyclable" and "safe for the environment."
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