Re-designed arts center at Richards approved

  • Written by Joe Boyle

theater  rendering 7-27

This artist rendering of the state-of-the art theater for Richards High School is scheduled to completed by August 2018.

Dr. Ty Harting, superintendent of Community High School District 218, was relieved and ecstatic after the Board voted unanimously earlier this month to approve construction bids for a new performing arts center at Richards High School in Oak Lawn.

“We’re very excited about how this facility will enhance our drama, choir, and band programs at Richards,” said Harting. “This facility also will serve as a great community resource for District 218.”

Harting was pleased with the latest vote because the issue had been left in limbo since the spring when the District 218 Board rejected the original construction bids for a new performing arts center at Richards High School, 10601 S. Central Ave. The Board cited excessive cost estimates from the contractors who submitted proposals on the project.

Groundbreaking will happen next month with completion of the project, which will cost an estimated $14 million, in August 2018.

“It has been a very long process, but I’m very excited for the students,” said Joshua Hammann, the choral director at Richards. “I’m very excited, too. This will allow us to showcase the talents of our students in drama, band and choir to the best of their abilities. We didn’t have the greatest facilities before but that is going to change. I think the students are very excited.”

The new arts center will attach to the current facility. Totaling 36,400 square feet, the addition will extend from the eastern gymnasium entrance of Richards out toward the tennis courts.

The arts center includes 28,400 square feet of new space at Richards, with an additional 8,000 square feet of remodeled space of the current facility.

Facility highlights include a new theater with 560 seats, a renovated band and choral area with six new practice rooms, teacher offices, a music library, and storage.

Mike Jacobson, who is entering his second year as the principal at Richards, shares the enthusiasm of the faculty and students about the plans for the performing arts center.

“This is very exciting,” Jacobson said. “We are having meetings every week going over the plans and the construction. Right now, papers have to be signed and other plans have to be approved. But construction is scheduled to begin in mid-August and should take over a year to complete.”

The principal said the first phase of the project will concentrate on the theater.

“Plans are still being made,” Jacobson said. “A tree has to be removed and a fence has to be built. This will be an addition to the eastern part of the building up to the tennis court. But this will be good because since this is an addition, it will not disrupt classes.”

The delay in approving plans for the performing arts center created some concerns. Construction has begun on the new performing arts center for Oak Lawn Community High School, 9400 Southwest Highway. The arts center is replacing tennis courts near 95th and Austin. The Oak Lawn High School project is also scheduled to completed by the fall of 2018.

Hammann was pleased that plans were approved at Oak Lawn High School as well. They also lacked a theater for their drama program, just like Richards. Hammann is in his fifth year at Richards. He also spent eight years as an assistant choral director at Oak Lawn High.

“I think this will be a great addition to Richards,” Hammann said. “When there is a sense that there is something new, it makes everybody feel better.”

The addition at Richards will include an auditorium house, stage, prop shop, storage, dressing rooms and lobby.

“This will be a state-of-the-art project and will not only be great for the theater program, but will be great for our choral and band programs,” said Jacobson.

“We want to point out that this performing arts center is also for the community,” added Jacobson. “I can see us running summer programs for kids and theater camps in here. We would like to talk to interested groups who would like to use the building. This is a community building. I’ve already contacted organizations.”

Oak Lawn approves restaurant liquor deliveries; Orland Park says no

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Village boards in Orland Park and Oak Lawn both recently addressed the issue of allowing local businesses to deliver alcoholic beverages, and it was handled differently by each community.

At the Oak Lawn Village Board meeting on July 11, trustees voted to approve a Class B packaged liquor license for Italian Kitchen, a new business that Ed Pilarz plans to open at 6765 W. 95th St. At the previous village board meeting in June, a Class H liquor license, for restaurants without a bar, was also approved. But because the business won’t be a typical sit-down restaurant, approval of the Class B license was postponed until the July meeting to allow for more discussion.

While Oak Lawn trustees discussed at length the pros and cons of allowing liquor deliveries before granting approval, the following week in Orland Park, the village board voted to ban liquor deliveries before any business requested permission to offer it.         

Pilarz explained that his business, which is opening in a vacant site that most recently held a 7-Eleven, would offer customers several choices. They will be able to either come in and order prepared Italian meals to take home, or the ingredients needs to make the meal themselves. Meals will also be delivered. The Class B license for packaged goods will allow customers to buy wine, beer or hard liquor by the bottle to take home with their meal, and will allow liquor to also be delivered with any order.

The restaurant will have seating for 16, so Pilarz said he expects most of his business to come from carry-out and deliveries.

“A large part of my revenue is going to come from outside the community,” he said.

“Will you be selling pints of liquor?” asked Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), pointing out that only liquor stores are allowed to sell pint bottles in Oak Lawn.

“Yes, we will. But we won’t have a large selection. I don’t have a lot of space and I will only be carrying the top five brands (of the various types of liquor).”

He also pointed out that liquor is already being delivered to homes by Binny’s and other liquor stores, and as part of grocery deliveries made through services such as Peapod.

“He has to be able to compete with existing businesses,” said Mayor Sandra Bury.

The board members were generally in agreement that Pilarz’s business plan is inventive and wished him well.

“I think it is an interesting idea. It should be very popular,” said Trustee Tim Desmond (1st), whose district includes Italian Kitchen.

But at the Orland Park Village Board meeting on July 17, Mayor Keith Pekau saw it another way. He said there was a “loophole” in local liquor laws that would allow alcohol to be delivered, and it needed to be closed. At his suggestion, the board approved by a vote of 4-1 an amendment to the municipal code involving liquor licenses that will prevent alcoholic beverages from being delivered.

“I checked and none of our local businesses are currently delivering liquor, so we won’t be hurting anyone,” said the mayor.

When Orland Park Trustee James Dodge made the point about Binny’s and others already making deliveries, Pekau said those businesses have state licenses that supersede local ones. Dodge agreed that with e-commerce, the deliveries are made more than 12 hours after the order is placed, while the goal of the ordinance is to prevent immediate deliveries of liquor with food orders from restaurants.

“If we prohibit it now we can always revisit it at a later time,” said Trustee Mike Carroll.

“If we do decide we want to allow delivery, we should have another (type of) liquor license added,” Pekau suggested.

The only trustee to vote against the ordinance was Dan Calandriello, who said there was no need for it.

“No one is doing it now, so we don’t need to address it,” he said. “The issue of liability is the responsibility of the business owner,” he added.

Retiring Oak Lawn police chief: 'It is just time to go'

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

michael murray photo 7-27

Photo by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray is retiring after 30 years with his hometown police department. He has served as chief since 2013.


Retiring Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray said he has enjoyed every minute of his 30-year career with his hometown department, “but it is just time to go.”

Murray, 55, is a lifelong resident of Oak Lawn, and joined the department in July, 1987. Tomorrow, Friday, will be his last day in the office, and as of next Monday, he will be officially retired. His replacement had not been announced as of Tuesday, but Murray said “they are hiring from within,” and two division chiefs are being considered.

“It has been an honor to serve this village. It has been a great career, and I enjoyed it,” said Murray, during an interview with The Reporter while he was packing up his office earlier this week. A graduate of St. Catherine of Alexandria School and Marist High School, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis on law enforcement at Illinois Benedictine College in 1984.

“IBC didn’t offer a law enforcement degree when I was going there, but I was already leaning in that direction,” he explained. “After graduating, I kind of spread the net around, applying at a few different departments, and I was lucky to get called here.”

While he has had “a couple of offers,” for second-career jobs, Murray said he plans to take his time deciding what he will do next.

“I am not going to rush into anything, except maybe to go on vacation with my wife, Cathy,” said the chief. “We have family spread around the country, and we might visit them. It will be nice to go on vacation without having to worry about the cellphone and email going off all the time,” he said with a smile.

The Murrays have five children: Tim, Molly, Christopher, Allyson and Benjamin, and the chief noted that Tim is currently living in Colorado, and Christopher is in Virginia.

“Technology is probably where I’ve seen the biggest change in my career,” said Murray, who spent five years in the patrol division before switching to investigations. He was promoted to chief in 2013.

He noted that while cameras seem to be everywhere now, when he first started out, “everything went through Chicago.” Oak Lawn police officers had to go to Chicago Police headquarters to get any crime scene photos.

“You could wait hours at 11th and State to get a black-and-white photo, and if you needed a color photo, it could be days. Now, you can practically conduct an investigation from your desk,” he said.

“The easy availability of information, and social media, had helped us. But for every piece of technology that makes things easier, someone will find a way to use it in a harmful way,” he said.

“Criminals don’t need a gun to rob you anymore. They can do it over the computer or telephone,” he added.

Murray admitted getting frustrated sometimes with social media as well.

“I can’t understand how some people post on social media about crimes they have seen committed before they even call the police. I tell them that that phone in their pocket that they use to take photos also makes calls. Calling 911 is still the quickest way to get police on the scene,” he said.

“At every community meeting I go to, I tell residents that they really are our eyes and ears. We need them as much as they need us,” said Murray. Surveillance cameras that have been installed on their homes have also helped the police, he noted. “Identifying who the bad guys are is the main goal.”

“We are servants of the community. Residents do pay our salaries. But crime-fighting is a shared responsibility,” he said.

Murray was feted at the last Village Board meeting he attended as chief on July 11, when Mayor Sandra Bury called him to the podium.

“Thank you for your dedication. You made some tough decisions and you always did the right thing,” said Bury.

“I can remember when they hired you,” said Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), who retired from the police department as chief of patrol.

“I am proud to have known you, and proud to have worked with you, in the department and here (on the Village Board),” said Vorderer.

“You made my job a lot easier,” said Trustee Bud Stalker (5th). “I don’t have a law enforcement background, and you explained why things are done the way they are.”

“You have always cared about the village of Oak Lawn,” said Trustee Alex Olejniczak (2nd), another lifelong village resident. ”Thank you for your service. I can’t believe how quickly 30 years have gone.”

“I feel like the credits are running at the end of the movie. You heard what you needed to hear. I always tried to keep the community in the forefront,” said Murray. “There are some things I won’t miss, but I will miss the people I have worked with.”

He expounded on that thought during the interview this week, and said he didn’t believe in individual honors.

“It is always a team effort,” he said. “I will always remember the people I’ve worked with, from the time I started until now. You don’t get through this job alone. Nothing happens just by yourself. At every junction, there is someone helping you. The team effort in law enforcement is very important. You don’t do this job in a bubble.”

Neighborhood Picnic provides perfect summer fun

  • Written by Kelly White

hand painting photo 7-20

Photo by Kelly White

    Graciela Fuentebella, 8, of Evergreen Park, gets her hand painted at the First United Methodist Church’s Neighborhood Picnic on Saturday afternoon in Evergreen Park.


Summertime is for fun, barbecues and socializing.

The congregation at First United Methodist Church in Evergreen Park knows that is the true recipe of the season.

The second annual Neighborhood Picnic was held Saturday afternoon on the church grounds, 9358 S. Homan Ave. Over 200 residents attended the event throughout the day – almost doubling the number of attendees from last summer.

“The church year-round provides a nice, cozy and family-friendly environment,” said James Foreman, of Chicago.

Foreman has been a member of the church for the past three years.

The family-friendly picnic on Saturday featured fun for all ages with inflatable slides, face painting and a bounce house for children, a DJ and interactive games for adults, including bean bags and chess.

Not only were attendees encouraged to join in on the fun, but children were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood children. Adults were encouraged to mingle with other neighborhood adults, according to church officials.

“It’s a nice day to get out and enjoy the people and the friendships,” said Wayne Hastings, of Evergreen Park and 35-year-member of First United Methodist Church.

The free event was organized by the First United Methodist Church’s Men’s Group, spearheaded by member Jeffrey Fuentebella, along with Pastor Larry Paris.

“Having this kind of event will give families and community hope, understanding and peace of mind and heart as they fellowship and socialize with each other,” Fuentebella said. “The more that attend, the merrier.”

“This event is a collaboration between our church, The Temple of Promise Apostolic Church, and members of the community,” Paris said. “It is also the culmination of the previous week’s Vacation Bible School that takes place over the summer at the church. The goal of the event is to promote community between both churches and members of the larger surrounding area. We hope that we each expand our circle of friendships beyond our own doors.”

A large food buffet was provided by the men’s club, made up of grilled burgers, hot dogs, chicken and pork sandwiches, fresh fruit, salads and barbecued ribs. Water and soft drinks were also available.

“Having more new people in our church is always my vision,” Fuentebella said. “I'm not expecting for the result. All I’m expecting is to have fun and great fellowship within the community, and God works with the rest.”

Evergreen Park resident Bob Vogeltanz has been a member of the church for over 60 years.

“I first came here when I was just a baby,” said Vogeltanz, 70. “I was confirmed in the church in 1958, and I was married there. My entire family belongs to this church and we are all very actively involved.”

United Methodist Church first opened its doors in 1893, coincidentally the same year the Village of Evergreen Park was founded. The current building was erected in 1947.

The church gathers an average of 60 people each Sunday for worship, according to Paris.

“Our emphasis is on our youth,” Paris said. “We provide Sunday School, an active youth group and Vacation Bible School. We also host four scouting groups -- two of them are for boys and two of them are for girls. This year we will have at least four Eagle Scouts in our parish. Children are welcome here.”

“While we hold the distinction of being the first church in Evergreen Park, we're gaining a reputation for being the church for kids,” Fuentebella said. “Our outreach has been aimed at the needs of children with fun events.”

Aside from the children-based organizations, the church supports agencies like the Village Food Pantry, ChildServ, Red Bird Mission and UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), which serve children and families facing poverty, disaster and loss.

Law would ban employment discrimination based on religious practices, attire

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

jacqueline collins photo 7-20

Photo by Dermot Connolly

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th, center at left) and state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd), with other political and religious leaders, met last Thursday outside the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, 7360 W. 93rd St., to urge Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign Senate Bill 1697, prohibiting employment discrimination against people who wear religious garb or hairstyles.


State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th) brought a group of political and religious leaders together last Thursday at the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview to urge Gov. Rauner to sign a bill prohibiting employers from requiring anyone from “forgoing any sincerely held religious practice or attire” to keep or obtain a job.

Collins was the chief sponsor of Senate Bill 1697, which the General Assembly passed and sent to Rauner to sign on June 14. Among those joining her at the press conference were state Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd), who sponsored the bill in the House, state Rep. Will Davis (D-30th), Mosque Foundation President Oussama Jammal and Rabbi Michael Belinsky, representing the Chicago Board of Rabbis.

“This bill truly goes to the foundation of our country,” Collins said, sharing a quote from George Washington that, “The United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

“This country truly was built by immigrants and slaves,” said Collins. “The government’s role is to protect all Americans from discrimination, regardless of their ethnicity or race or faith.

“Fighting prejudice is never as simple as getting a bill signed into law,” Collins added. “It requires all of us to push for a democracy that lives up to founding principles. But prohibiting discrimination--protecting opportunity and supporting each American’s God-given rights – is the first step. This is legislation that we need now more than ever.”

Mah explained that the bill amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, making it a violation for an employer “to impose as a condition of obtaining or retaining employment any term or condition that requires a person to violate or forgo a sincerely held practice of his or her religion including the wearing of any attire, clothing, or facial hair in accordance with the requirements of his or her religion.”

“The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is clear that our country is meant to be a place with freedom of religion and cultural customs,” said Mah. “We all come from different backgrounds and choose to worship how we please. Despite existing laws, it was important to have more specific laws to protect against loss of employment or employment opportunities. We need to call upon our fellow citizens to support it, as well as our representatives, and urge Gov. Rauner to sign it.

“Everyone has a right to be free of from discrimination in the workplace. We are not looking for preferential treatment, but fair treatment,” said Jammal.

“This is a bill we can support because it is not just to protect against discrimination, but it celebrates the religious diversity of this country. It is a celebration of America. It makes it open to everyone. This is a positive thing,” said Belinsky. “Wearing a kippa, like I do, is usually not a problem. But I think it is unfortunate that anyone should be singled out for their hair or garb.”

“There is a real sensibility to the bill too, regarding health and safety issues,” said Belinsky, referring to wording in the bill that states, “dress codes or grooming policies that include restrictions related to the maintenance of workplace safety or food sanitation are not prohibited.”

“Dr., Martin Luther King said we should judge individuals on their character, not by the clothes that they wear or how they fix their hair,” said Davis.

The press conference coincidentally was held the same week as controversial comments made by Palos Township Trustee Sharon Brannigan regarding Muslims moving into the community, allegedly without documentation, led to calls for her to step down.

“It is regrettable that a person like her, in a district that is quite diverse, would make such bigoted, baseless comments,” said Jammal. “She unfairly targeted a community that has done a lot economically for this area, building businesses and nice homes. We have some of the best doctors in the Chicago area.”

Sara Hamdan, a community organizer with Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) on Chicago’s Southwest Side, was also at the press conference.

“We’re moving in the right direction with any legislation like that that can protect people of faith from discrimination,” said Hamdan afterward.

Bridgeview resident Rifqa Falaneh, an intern with state Rep. Juliana Stratton (D-5th), represented Stratton at the press conference.

“I’m a part of this community,” said Falaneh, who, like Hamdan, wears a hijab. “As a college student, I don’t feel I have been discriminated against in the workplace yet. But if it happens, it is good to know this legislation is there.”