Oak Lawn close to announcing anchor for 111/Cicero TIF

Mayor says name will be revealed later this month

By Laura Bollin

Oak Lawn village officials are close to announcing one of the businesses that will anchor a shopping center to be built at 111th Street and Cicero Avenue.

The redevelopment of the 111th and Cicero tax increment financing district (TIF) was among the main talking points Tuesday during Oak Lawn Mayor Dave Heilmann's state of the village address. Heilmann spoke to a crowd of about 120 people at the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce's luncheon at the Hilton Oak Lawn Hilton.

Oak Lawn plans to announce Feb. 26 the name of the first anchor tenant for the TIF redevelopment project. The tenant, which village officials refused to name, will bring in an estimated $50 million in annual sales and create 400 jobs. Oak Lawn village manager Larry Deetjen said the anchor tenant was chosen based on feedback from residents.

"We are confident we will have an outstanding anchor," Deetjen said.

The village owns the following assets in the TIF district: Edgar Funeral Home, 10900 S. Cicero Ave.; the Kmart/Dominick's property; Mansard Court, 11004 S. Cicero Ave.; the space formerly occupied by Oak Lawn Harley Davidson, 11040 S. Cicero Ave.; and Interstate Muffler, 4800 W. 111th St. The Kmart and Harley Davidson properties have been demolished, and Edgar Funeral Home has been leased to Midwest Orthopedics. No date has been set for the demolition of the Interstate Muffler property, Heilmann said.

The village created the TIF district in 2005. The redeveloped site will have two water features and may have two restaurants, the mayor said.

Public safety, in particular as it relates to the police department, was another aspect of Heilmann's presentation. Neighborhood safety meetings with the mayor and Police Chief Bill Villanova were held at Kolb, Hannum, Covington, Harnew and Kolmar schools in 2012. The police department last year increased its number of full-time officers from 108, up from 102 in 2005. More than 250,000 calls were answered at Oak Lawn's Emergency Communications' 911 center in 2012, he added. Calls were answered within 10 seconds 98.7 percent of the time, which Heilmann called "outstanding."

"All of lives were touched by what happened in Newtown, Conn.," Heilmann said. "No one expects to drop their child off at school and never see them again."

Six months prior to the Newtown shootings, the Oak Lawn police led an initiative to install placards at 23 public and private schools identifying classrooms and important areas to aid first responders in case of an emergency.

"This way, they will know where everything is in the school and know within seconds how to get there," Heilmann said. "They were thinking ahead."

Heilmann hopes to create a comprehensive safety plan for the village, he said.

"We want to sit down with a group of residents, a group of people who care, and develop a safety plan," Heilmann said. "We want to look at a lot of different areas. Maybe someone wants to look at lighting, someone might want to look at what's going on in schools, seniors who live alone, identity theft - we have to study this. We are right next to one the largest cities in the country and we can't ignore that. We have to study the statistics and educate people."

Heilmann said everyone knows a neighborhood that used to be safe but is no longer safe.

"We all know a place where it used to be safe, and now you wouldn't live there," Heilmann said. "That can't happen in Oak Lawn. We need to take the lead on safety."

Heilmann also noted the Oak Lawn Park District has received $750,000 in grant money for renovations. Heilmann and several attendees remembered the long-removed "rocket ship" slide that was once the centerpiece at Memorial Park, 102nd Street and Major Avenue. The park will be renovated this summer, with upgrades including a new "rocket slide," improved playgrounds, restrooms, a fishing pier and a splash pad.

Centennial Park, 93rd Street and Nashville Avenue, will be renovated in the fall. The project will add a playground and a picnic pavilion, along with four indoor basketball courts and a children's splash pool.

"The rocket ship slide was great," Heilmann said. "I'll see you all there when the park is done, and we'll all go down the slide."

A-maze-ing memorial

Museum exhibit remembers life of Megan Hurckes

By Laura Bollin

Visitors to the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn may not all have known Megan Hurckes, but a new exhibit may cause them to remember her.

The museum on Valentine's Day dedicated Megan's Maze in memory of the late Oak Lawn girl, who died more than three years ago. The maze, known as a "super perplexus," was designed by San Francisco-based sculpture artist Michael McGinnis. It consists of a clear sphere three feet in diameter that contains things Megan loved, said her father, Jerry Hurckes.

"The perplexus is everything Megan liked," Hurckes said. "It has softball - she played (Westside) softball in Oak Lawn -- aquatic stuff, her name, the mitt. It's all about Megan. We wanted to do something different and unique for the kids and also be a tribute to Megan."

The maze is set up like a softball diamond, and youths manipulate a ball through the labyrinth to "run the bases," explained Children's Museum director Adam Woodworth. The maze begins on the left-hand side of the batter's box because Megan was left-handed. Woodworth called the exhibit "one-of-a-kind."

"It has a baseball bat and mitt that are regulation size for a 10- year-old girl," he said. "When (McGinnis) was developing the maze, he had questions like if she was left-handed or right-handed, because that mattered to him. It also has dolphins, a whale, a seahorse and starfish, because Megan was thinking about becoming an oceanographer when she was older.

"When you start the maze, you are actually manipulating the ball through her name in purple letters. The mitt and bat are orange because those were her favorite colors."

A special touch was added by McGinnis. A small, dime-sized dot at the start of the maze represents one day of Megan's life, relative to the length of the maze. A plaque at the base of the maze features Megan's photograph and lets visitors know the maze was donated by the Weglarz Family and the Megan Hurckes Scholarship Fund.

Woodworth said Megan's parents, Jerry and Mary Ann, and family friend Mark Weglarz worked together to develop the maze, which took three years to plan and build. Weglarz saw smaller versions that McGinnis sold online, and saw that he had created larger versions for other museums and private collections.

Woodworth said the exhibit is geared for children 6 years and older, though younger children can manipulate the maze with a parent's help. Woodworth said the maze will help children develop critical thinking skills. He is planning to create a Megan's Maze section at the museum to feature tabletop and wooden mazes for children to explore.

Megan Hurckes was 10 when she was involved in a fatal ATV accident while vacationing with her family in Kingston, Wis., during Labor Day weekend in 2009. The Hurckes family has since memorialized Megan in multiple ways, including a scholarship fund in her name and an annual bowling outing held on her birthday.

"Losing a child is very, very tough," Jerry Hurckes said. "You go through a lot of emotions, and you want to do something where your child will always be remembered. This way, it was a win-win for everyone: the community, the museum, the kids, and our family. We wanted to give back to the community that has donated to the scholarship fund.

"This exhibit is permanent. It will always be dedicated to Megan. It's awesome, a nice, warm feeling. My daughter will be remembered by many children who never knew her, but they will be playing Megan's Maze."

'He always had that extra minute'

More than 1,000 people showed up for a memorial for late Sandburg High School Athletic Director Bruce Scheidegger in the Eagle Gym Sunday afternoon. The two-hour ceremony featured several speeches including one from boys cross country coach John O'Malley.

O'Malley told the crowd that Scheidegger was very busy, but always had an extra minute for everyone. So he put a minute up on the scoreboard (left photo) and urged everyone to applaud and cheer Mr. Scheidegger for that minute. The crowd followed his instructions (right photo), and what started out as polite applause turned into a wild madhouse the final 15 seconds before the buzzer went off.

Scheidegger died Feb. 9 in a one-vehicle accident north of Mount Carroll.

Worth cops get ATV to thwart vandals & underage drinkers

By Laura Bollin

The Worth Police Department will beginning in the spring use an all-terrain vehicle in an attempt to discourage vandalism and other petty crime at parks and the village-owned Water's Edge Golf Club.

The four-wheeler will allow police officers access to areas they would not be able to enter with squad cars. Worth Trustee Mary Rhein said the ATVs will help with the department's "aggressive patrol tactics."

"The ATV will be used to help with underage drinking, criminal damage to property, and graffiti at Water's Edge and the 10 parks in the village," Rhein said. "There will be access to where access by patrol cars is limited."

Worth will pay $8,500 for the black-and-white vehicle, which will be equipped with emergency lights, a public address system, windshield and siren, Rhein said. The funds will come from the police department's asset forfeiture fund. It will be delivered to the department next week, then sent out to be equipped with accessories.

Worth resident Gene Sikora at Tuesday's Village Board meeting questioned how police officers would transfer an arrestee to the police station. Police Chief Martin Knolmayer said a squad car will be called to do such a job.

If the ATV purchase proves beneficial, a second one may be purchased, Rhein said. Officers will receive four to eight hours of training on how to properly operate the vehicle, and one officers is a certified ATV instructor, Rhein said.

"I really think it's gonna be an asset, especially on vandals," Rhein said. "It will be easier access to fly through a park."

Stuck on you

Saint Xavier University student Aldo Quinones of Oak Lawn shows his enthusiasm at the SXU School of Education's first Pinning Ceremony held Feb. 5. The ceremony was held in honor of the university's teacher education students earning candidacy status in the School of Education, the first major benchmark in the program leading to teacher licensure.

For an online gallery of photos from the event visit the "Saint Xavier University News" Facebook page.