In long-inked pact, Ridgeland Common ice rink could be used as morgue

Unlikely but an option if COVID-19 deaths mount

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

With the rising number of COVID-19-related fatalities in Cook County, the ice rink at Ridgeland Common could eventually be converted into an emergency morgue should the increased need exceed the capacity of the Cook County morgue.

Under a 2006 agreement between the village of Oak Park and the Park District of Oak Park, the village has the ability to commandeer park district facilities for emergency mass-sheltering purposes. Although not explicitly stated within the agreement, that includes converting the ice rink inside the Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex, 415 Lake St., into a makeshift morgue.

Jan Arnold, park district executive director, mentioned the possibility on March 19 during a park district meeting — conducted virtually due to COVID-19.

"I would imagine it was a reminder," said Diane Stanke, park district director of marketing, on behalf of Arnold. "We have new board members too. I don't know if anybody's on the board from 2006 when this mass-sheltering memorandum was actually put in place."

The village of Oak Park reported its first likely COVID-19-related death April 1. As of April 5, Cook County has a total of 210 deaths from COVID-19, according to the Medical Examiner's Office.

"The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office has a morgue that can hold 285 bodies," said Natalia Derevyanny, spokesperson for the Cook County Medical Examiner. "Because of COVID-19, we brought in a refrigerated trailer onsite in our parking lot, which can hold 30 additional bodies."

Under the village of Oak Park's emergency operating plan, "The village will operate in a support function only for mortuary services and will assist the Cook County Medical Examiner (CCME) to the best of its ability as requested."

The plan also states that if "requested by the CCME and in the event that a local mass morgue facility is required for temporary storage, an arrangement exists between the village of Oak Park and the park district to use their facilities in the best interest of the public."

Under the shared emergency mass-sheltering agreement, the park district "will permit the use of physical facilities and equipment by the Oak Park Department of Public Health within 12 hours of the request" and for the requested time period.

The Ridgeland Common rink is National Hockey League regulation size, with the sheet of ice measuring 85 by 200 feet. The surface temperature of the ice ranges from 20 to 24 degrees, while the air temperature in the arena averages about 53 degrees. The entire building, including the ice rink and its locker rooms, is around 53,000 square feet.

"The village certainly considers the Park District of Oak Park as an important resource, but using the ice rink as a morgue would be a last resort," said Oak Park Director of Communications David Powers.

According to Derevyanny, the Medical Examiner's Office is in the process of acquiring more refrigerated warehouse space.

"Obviously our hope is that we will not need additional space during the pandemic, but we want to be prepared for any eventuality," Derevyanny said.

However, converting the Ridgeland Common ice rink into a temporary morgue is hypothetical only.

"That is not something we've looked into," said Derevyanny.

Oak Park Public Health Director Mike Charley could not be reached for comment.

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Reader Comments

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Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 13th, 2020 9:45 AM

@ Jeff Evans: Since the article has "simply fallen off the home page" and the article is already written, I can not see why it would be so difficult simply to resubmit a written article back to the front page. Do we need Medi Alert, "Help, I have fallen and I cant get up"? This is the same thought process that hinders police from re opening a closed investigation. "But, but the case is closed"

Jeff Evans from Oak Park  

Posted: April 10th, 2020 10:33 AM

Brian, what does "restore to its original place" mean? As stated, there are many articles that have been written after this one (dated April 7). If you want to see it in order of publication, you can click "view all news" from the front page and keep scrolling back in pages. As of now, it's here:

Marty Bracco  

Posted: April 9th, 2020 9:45 PM

I was on the Park District Board in 2006. I do recall this possibility discussed within a larger disaster plan as part of the inter-governmental agreement. It seemed an appropriate use of resources in the unlikely (so we thought then) event of a catastrophic scenario.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 9th, 2020 8:23 PM

So, if the article has fallen off, why not restore the article to its original place.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal employee Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: April 9th, 2020 6:44 PM

The article has simply fallen off the home page because our reporters are producing a great deal of content during the pandemic. The article is safe and sound on the site (you can search for it) and in print.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: April 9th, 2020 9:53 AM

Brian Slowiak I would rather have you explain why it was removed if it was since I have not even checked. There were two workers who succumbed from the virus who were employed at Walmart. This may have been the motivator for testing temperatures each day and also Amazon is doing it

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 9th, 2020 8:45 AM

This article was removed from the front page. Anyone care to guess why?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: April 8th, 2020 11:52 PM

Well, this certainly

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: April 8th, 2020 5:52 PM

Jeff Schroeder I am not sure if you are being sarcastic or not although I am very serious about trying to protect people. There are delivery services that are promoting their business now. I will go out and engage in the virus being protected and disinfect the best I can. I will not invite the virus to my home unless they have been verified that they have at least been checked by a simple touchless thermometer which has been shown to be effective. I would never run for board since I already know how difficult it is to work with people who are more interested in staying on the safe side of letting the CDC make the decisions. I hope that individuals are following everything from the CDC and thinking what they may have missed and eventually catch up

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: April 8th, 2020 3:42 PM

Tommy, you really should run for Village Board next election.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: April 7th, 2020 9:03 PM

This is good forward thinking. Good forward thinking would also be to have every employee tested for temperature that comes into contact with others and that may keep any body from ending up at the ice arena. The Fire Chief knows the importance of his people so if this newspaper can ask why it is not being done, it certainly would be appreciated and sooner than later. It took long enough to get the masks worn and it required the CDC to say it was alright

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