'Restaurant: Impossible' visits Palos Hills

Chef Robert Irvine tries to revamp the old Valley Inn

(From July 26, 2012)

The popular Food Network reality show "Restaurant: Impossible" was in Palos Hills last week to film the grand reopening of one of the oldest restaurants in the area.

The show's star, British chef Robert Irvine, was at the Valley Inn last Wednesday and Thursday to remodel the restaurant and revamp its menu on a $10,000 budget. Valley Inn owners Dennis and Frankie Ristucci and the Food Network crew reopened the inn, 8300 W. 107th St., at 7 p.m. Thursday night to a reservations-only crowd.

The line of waiting patrons extended into the restaurant's parking lot. Some guests said they had made reservations a week and a half before the reopening, yet still stood in line for half an hour before they were seated. Dozens of other people, many of whom described themselves as Valley Inn regulars but who did not have reservations for the evening, also lined up outside hoping to get into the restaurant's bar.

The Food Network was filming the event for Season 4 of "Restaurant: Impossible," and the episode will not air for a few months. Only diners with reservations were allowed inside, and all were required to sign waivers stating they would not talk about the renovations or their experience that evening until five days after the show airs, said "Restaurant: Impossible" producer Justin Leonard, who noted the restaurant was being treated as a closed set. The Valley Inn's owners and staff are contractually prohibited from speaking to the media about their experiences with the show and Irvine.

No one waiting outside the inn was provided any information about the renovations, but guests were speculating that based on the number of people being allowed in that the restaurant's capacity had been expanded.

The Valley Inn, which has not always had that name, may be nearly 80 years old. "Restaurant: Impossible" makes $10,000 worth of renovations to restaurants nominated based on their status as failing or unprofitable. Irvine and his crew spend two days remodeling the interior, training or retraining staff and updating the menu. To see what changes have been made to the Valley Inn stop in or make a reservation.

A picture of Worth

Museum curator pens book about village

(From April 19, 2012)

The Worth Historical Museum's curator is hopeful proceeds from a book of photographs she compiled will help fund new exhibits at the museum.

"Images of America: Worth," which features hundreds of photographs collected by museum curator Colleen McElroy, will be released Monday, April 23.

"All of the proceeds go to the museum," McElroy said. "We're hoping to be able to create a replica of the Bishop General Store in one part of the museum. We also want to digitize some of our collection, maybe putting photographs into digital photo frames."

The book idea was inspired by Worth's upcoming centennial celebration in 2014, McElroy said.

"I found drawers and drawers of photos, and I thought it would be a nice project," she said. "I wanted to create a book so people could see and share the photos, instead of having them locked away."

McElroy was moved toward the project by a friend's documentary on LaPorte, Ind., which started from a photograph.

"He found this restaurant that used to be a photo studio, and there were a bunch of portraits in the back," McElroy said. "He managed to track down some of the relatives of the people in the portraits, and the documentary is their story."

The book contains more than 200 photographs ranging from those of school classrooms to the Bishop Store founded in 1881, to milestones in Worth history such as the opening of the Worth Park District's Terrace Centre and the Water's Edge Golf Club. The book is divided into five chapters including Transportation, Parks and Recreation, and the People of Worth - long known as the "Friendly Village." The nickname was given to the town by Bill Schneider, who while running for election to the Village Board in 1957 said, "Visiting the houses in town, Worth has the friendliest people around."

The book also features photos of historic homes - from the Victorian ornate to madeto- order dwellings that could be purchased through the Sears catalogue. At least 40 of the homes photographed are still standing, McElroy said.

McElroy's favorite photograph in the book is from 1906, when a "posse" of men wearing top hats and ties met before attempting to track down a convict who had escaped from the Illinois State Penitentiary. Another photo shows people riding a Barnum & Bailey circus elephant during a village festival in 1956.

The book ($21.99) and will be sold at the museum, 11500 S. Beloit Avenue, and at amazon. com, and arcadiapublishing. com. McElroy will be selling signed copies at this year's Worth Days Fest in August. There will be a bicycle tour in June featuring some of the village's historic homes, a program this summer at the museum during which McElroy will give an overview of the book and sign copies.

Moraine approves plan for health & wellness center

$34.5M project to be funded by bond, tuition hike

(From March 1, 2012)

The Moraine Valley Community College board of trustees voted unanimously last week to move forward with its plan to build a $34.5 million health education and wellness center that will include a swimming pool, fitness center and field house.

The 115,000-square-foot facility to be built on the west side of the college's campus in Palos Hills will also feature an indoor walking track, three full-sized basketball courts, an athletic training room, group exercise studios, hydrotherapy tub and athletic offices. The field house will seat 3,500 people. The facility will replace the college's 40,768-square-foot fitness center and gymnasium housed in Building G.

After meeting with focal groups composed of Moraine students, faculty and staff members, and conducting a phone survey of residents in the college's district, the board believes there is enough interest in the project to make it a necessary endeavor. The project will be funded with $30.9 million in bond money and $3.6 million to be raised through an $8 increase in the cost per credit hour of classes at the college.

Funds from the tuition increase to be implemented this fall will be earmarked for capital projects, and will offset the lack of the state appropriations for capital projects over the past several years, according to Moraine Valley Executive Vice President of Administrative Services Andrew Duren. The money will be used to construct new facilities, renovate existing facilities, improve parking lots and replace roofs, and for the general upkeep of campus - with the initial project being the Health Education and Wellness Center, according to Moraine Valley chief financial officer/treasurer Bob Sterkowitz.

The next step includes working to finalize the building plans for the facility. The college's goal is to open the center in early 2014.

Proposed monthly membership fees for the facility's fitness center will be $59 per person, $89 per couple and $119 per family, and a separate rate for senior citizens. Full-time Moraine students will have full access to the center, and part-time students will pay a fee based on a sliding scale that could include "buy-up options" for full access to the facility, according to Sterkowitz.

College officials project the membership fees will raise enough revenue to cover the costs of operating the health and wellness center.

The college intends to partner with a health care organization on the project, and is awaiting a intent letter from an "in-district hospitals' corporate office," according to college officials. Another in-district hospital has expressed interest, and the goal is to obtain full sponsorship pledge within the next month. The sponsorship would provide rent, as well as student educational opportunities and community health wellness.

Recommendations from student, faculty and staff focus groups include traffic lights on the running track to provide pace; space for activities such as skateboarding, billboards and a game room; and addressing the needs of non-athletic student clubs. The focal groups were also interested in how the facility will support the college's academic programs, what will happen to current staff members, who will manage the facility, who will partner with the college on the project, and how the college's current wellness initiative will be incorporated into the programming of the new facility. Moraine officials plan to look at all those concerns as they move forward with the project.

The proposal has been met with limited opposition from the public, most from people who believe Moraine does not need such a facility or fear the college will increase its property tax rate to help fund the project. Moraine officials said last week the tax rate will not be raised.

One attendee at last week's meeting, Paul Dreger, considers the facility a "$34 million glitzy L.A. Fitness attached to a megabasketball arena."

"I realize that we have worse facilities than any of the surrounding high schools, but I do not think this facility will serve or needs," Dreger said.

Dreger said Moraine has a substandard physical education program, which may be a result of a lack of facilities, and provided recommendations for what he called "real college courses" and "life sports" such as martial arts, handball, canoeing, bicycle riding, aerobics and archery.

Oak Lawn to fell nearly 500 trees infested by borer

(From March 15, 2012)

Infestation by the invasive emerald ash borer has prompted Oak Lawn to plan felling almost five times as many trees this year as it did in 2011.

Oak Lawn village forester Heather Green on Tuesday told the Village Board that between 460 and 500 trees are infested by the beetle and will have to be cut down. That number is up from the roughly 100 the village chopped down last year, she added.

Green presented village officials a map showing the locations of infested ash trees. The tree-killing beetle is present in all six trustee districts, with one of the largest areas of infestation involving 202 ash trees between 105th and 111th streets along Laverne Avenue, Green said. The village has the funding to remove the trees, but not replace them, she added.

"We have $50,000 in the budget to remove the trees, and an additional $40,000 to trim the trees," Green said. "That is all part of the budget for this year. We will not be using any external funds or grant money this year."

Adult emerald ash borers - green, shiny beetles that came here from Asia - infect ash trees by laying their eggs on the bark of healthy specimens. The larvae then burrow beneath the bark, feeding on the nutrients of the trees and damaging their nutrient transport system starting with the upper trunk and tree limbs. The damage causes the trees to starve, and the dying trees and branches are brittle and break easily.

"They eat the blood vessels of the tree, what brings nutrients and water to the tree," Green explained. "Once that is gone, the tree dies.

Green said she is working on securing grant funding for 2013. She hopes to get $30,000 in community development block grant fund, to plant new trees where the infested trees are being removed.

Toys for kids fighting cancer

Worthwoods Elementary School students Isabella Ramirez, (from left), Natalia Harb, Katie Beltz and Raghad Abu-Shalbak hold bags full of toys and gifts that will go to help children fighting cancer.

Students and teachers at Worthwoods Elementary School, 11100 S. Oketo Ave. in Worth collected toys and gift certificates and donated them to the Treasure Chest Foundation. The foundation gives the toys and gift cards to children that are undergoing treatment for cancer in 34 children's cancer treatment centers nationwide, including Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn.