Debris and headaches are piling up

  • Written by Bob Rakow

OL’s plans to resolve flood issues are coming but not real soon

PAGe-1-2-col-debrisDebris from Oak Lawn residents’ basements and houses were picked up earlier this week. Village officials estimate 25 tons of debris was hauled away this week. Photo courtesy of Village of Oak Lawn.

There are no near-term solutions coming down the pipe to resolve flooding problems in Oak Lawn, but the village is working on long-term answers to the dilemma, which has plagued several areas of the village this year, officials say.

Residents in pockets throughout Oak Lawn neighborhoods were hit hard early Friday morning, as nearly five inches of rain struck the area. Neighboring Burbank was hit the worst, with several streets severely flooded and residents navigating some streets in rowboats.
It wasn’t as bad in Oak Lawn, but don’t tell that to residents who spent the weekend dragging water logged carpet and furniture to the curb for a special pickup on Sunday.
In fact, Republic Services, the village’s waste hauler, along with public works crews, hauled away up 25 tons of debris, said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.
8-22-14-Flood-030Flood waters may not have been as bad in Oak Lawn as they were in nearby Burbank, but things still got pretty wet on Friday morning. Photo courtesy of Village of Oak Lawn.Olejniczak said that in his district heavy rain impacted the same parts of his district that typically are hit hard when it rains hard.
“Alexander [Place] got waylaid. It was just bad,” Olejniczak said.
In fact, many homes in an area bounded by Central Avenue, 52nd Avenue, 87th Place and 88th Place were hit by flooding, Olejniczak said.
Village officials admit there’s no quick fix to the problem, but say they’re working with officials from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District on a series of solutions that will better prepare the village for heavy storms in the years to come.
MWRD officials spent time on Friday at the village’s emergency command center and got first-hand look at flooding at the underpass at 95th Street and Harlem Avenue as well as 87th Street near the retention reservoir in Burbank.
“They identified the problems,” Olejniczak said. “They’ve seen what happens.”
“There’s no quick fix,” Trustee Tim Desmond added.
Indeed not. Olejniczak points to the addition of turn lanes at Southwest Highway and Central Avenue as an example of a project that took required several years to accomplish as the village worked with Cook County to bring the work to fruition. Work is expected to begin in September, he said.
Deetjen said three major projects would, over time, lead to significant flood relief in Oak Lawn.
First, he said, the construction a reservoir at the northwest corner of St. Casimir Catholic Cemetery property “is a hugely important project.” A retention reservoir, would give the village somewhere to temporarily hold water during significant storms, he said.
Second, he said, the village plans to install detention boxes underneath 103rd Street from Central to Cicero avenues when that stretch of road is under construction. The detention boxes also would help alleviate flooding.
Finally, improvements to the Melvina Ditch, which connects with Stony Creek, are part of the village’s master plan.
“The creek has only so much holding capacity,” Deetjen said.
The long-term plan won’t resolve any problems overnight, Deetjen said.
“(It’s) not going to satisfy anyone who took on water,” he said.
Mayor Sandra Bury said the village was proactive in its handling of the storm and its aftermath, despite criticism from political opponents that she, along with Deetjen and Olejniczak, remained silent and the village issued no official response.
“It was all hands on deck,” Bury said. “We had radio and TV interviews, social media, website  and two EOC briefings. I was very proud of the village response to the flooding caused by the worst downpour in recorded history.  Our first responders are awesome.”


Cold water, warm hearts

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Ice-Bucket-2-picsShepard players go bananas as they douse assistant football coaches Ryan McGuire (left photo) and Brendan Meany (right photo) as a part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Both assistant coaches had friends and family members die of the ALS and were touched by the players’ gesture. Photos by Bob McParland/District 218.Shepard football coaches touched by players’ Ice Bucket gesture

The 2015 football season opens on Friday night and Shepard’s squad will have the challenge of trying to erase an 0-9 season in 2013 from Astros’ fans’ minds when it heads to Niles North in Skokie for a non-conference game.
Before that challenge, the Astros faced another challenge.
For the past couple of weeks, the phenomenon of having people take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has blazed across the world thanks to social media. Everyone from Michael Jordan to former President George W. Bush to heavy hitters in Hickory Hills (see page 5) have had buckets of ice water dumped on their heads to support finding a cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- commonly known as ALS and more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
That brings us to a football practice last weekFootball-graphic on the Shepard campus in Palos Heights.
Student athlete Mark Albrecht dared his teammates and coaches to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge.
The dousing produced hoots, hollers and hilarity among a bunch of emotional teenage boys.
But more important, the cold drenchings warmed the hearts of two Shepard assistant coaches.
Ryan McGuire and Brendan Meany lost family and friends to ALS and the players’ gestures meant a lot to the two of them.
“I know someone who personally lost a battle to this disease. It is great to see the response that our students, athletes and our community have shown. It’s just another great example of excellence at Shepard,” McGuire said in a news release.
Meany agreed.
“As someone who lost a family friend to ALS this year, it was an honor to be part of the ice bucket challenge,’’ he said in a news release. “And it was awesome to see our kids so excited about such a noble cause.”
Head coach Dominic Passolano’s splashdown caused the most noise among the players.
“It was awesome to see our kids take the initiative in helping others and have a clear understanding about the cause,” the coach said in a statement. “It was a great way to help bring awareness to ALS, a nice way to kick the school year off and bring our school community together.”
ALS, which is fatal and has no cure, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
Now for the challenges ahead…
Passolano, a former Providence Catholic player, came to the school in 2009 and the Astros made the playoffs just once in the previous 14 years. He took the team to the postseason four times in his first four years before last year’s 0-9 finish.
The team hosts Marian Sept. 5 before heading to the South Suburban Red Conference.



Jeff Vorva's imPRESSions: Cross your fingers — night football comes back to my high school

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Jeffs Col ImpressionsGather around, boys and girls, and Uncle Jeff will tell you about his high school days.
No, I won’t say I had to walk 20 miles in the snow to get there. I actually got a ride to school each morning, but in the days before catalytic converters, some of the commutes to school stunk of exhaust fumes and that was pretty rough.
Speaking of rough…
I went to a Catholic grade school for eight years and my dad was a steel mill worker and we were middle class while most of the rest of the school had rich kids who were snobby and had parents that were lawyers and bankers.
That said, the kids in the school were pretty well behaved. Sure, there were a few fights on the playground, but the hardest hit I saw was when the nun principal slapped a kid in the chops after he referred to another kid as something that rhymed with trucker. He couldn’t get the next word out as he was struck by the slap heard ‘round the world. Or at least ‘round the playground.
That brings me to high school.
I went to Joliet Central.
Within the first couple of months:
• I was 10 feet away from a big guy beating up a girl in the cafeteria.
• Someone put poison in the science teacher’s coffee and the guy nearly died.
• There were rumors of a riot that was supposed to happen during my lunch hour. It never happened but there were cops in the cafeteria that day. The only time there were cops at my Catholic grade school was when a member of the Joliet Police brass would drop off hisPAGE-3-1-or-2-col-with-jv-col kid to school.
• A faculty member was bloodied from the fists of a student – during a pep rally.
• The first teacher I ever had was a drunk but I was too stupid to figure it out until junior year when I saw him in a store shouting and acting goofy.
I have a few other stories about good ol’ Joliet Central but you get the idea.
That said, I survived the mean hallways of Joliet Central and I enjoyed my four years there better than my eight years at the Catholic school.
At the time, the school had a bad reputation.
Years after I graduated, I worked as a freelance writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and covered basketball games in the inner city. Simeon. King. Westinghouse. Crane. Collins. Marshall. These are schools that are not in Wilmette. Yet my boss never said anything to me about going to those schools.
But when I had to cover a game at my dear alma mater, he growled “Get out of there as fast as you can – I don’t want someone hitting you in the back of the head with a wrench.”
I bring you these wholesome memories because Friday night, Joliet Central will host its first night home football game in many years. Joliet West, which used to be the “goody goody” school in the district, will also host a night game later in the season after a long absence.
Both schools have lights at their fields. But in the past, night games were such big headaches, they were eliminated in favor of Saturday morning and afternoon games.
“We just had a few issues not involving our students and we needed to change,” District Director of Activities and Athletics Chris Olson told the Joliet Herald-News. “I hope we embrace it this time.’’
Phew. I’m certainly glad it wasn’t the good kids of JT Central and West who caused trouble during night games. I wouldn’t want their reputations stained.
So on Friday night, the Joliet Central Steelmen will host Thornridge at 6:30 p.m. and if you wanted to just show up…well…good luck.
No tickets will be sold at the game.
Students who bought tickets are not allowed to sell them or give them to other students or non-students.
Parents and other adults needed to come into the school at designated times and locations between Aug. 18 and today, Thursday.
There will be no sophomore game.
The administration and the cops are in close consultation to make sure Friday Night Lights turns into Friday Night Fights.
There are a lot of hoops to jump through.
“It would be awesome if we could make this work,” Olson told the Herald. “I will say this, I have a lot of faith in our student body.’’
We’ll see. At least this new generation of Steelmen hasn’t tried to poison their science teacher yet.


OL’s 911 dispatch dispute still has political overtones

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Oak Lawn’s 911 dispatch center continues to be the source of political controversy several months after the village board decided to outsource the service.
Trustees Robert Streit and Carol Quinlan last week called for an “independent, fact-finding survey” designed to evaluate the service, a suggestion that failed to receive support from other trustees.
Meanwhile, at least one trustee accused Streit of using the dispatch center as a campaign issue, while a former trustee accused Streit and Quinlan of lying when they said they were unaware of a litany of serious problems that existed with the previous team of emergency dispatchers.
Streit put the issue back in the spotlight at the Aug. 12 village board meeting saying he’s received several complaints from residents about the service since it’s been outsourced to a private company.
“There have been many questions raised about the quality of service our residents receive,” Streit said. “I hear from so many people. I hope you all do.”
Streit conceded that he likely hears more complaints than other trustees because he vocally opposed outsourcing the 911 dispatch service, a move the board approved in November on the recommendation of Village Manager Larry Deetjen. Quinlan also voted against the proposal.
The village entered into a contract with Elmhurst-based Norcomm Public Safety Communications several days after the vote was taken.
Streit had hoped to question Norcomm vice president Michael Tillman about the complaints he’s received. Tillman attended the Aug. 12 board meeting to present the village a certificate thanking Oak Lawn for continued commitment in an effort to achieve excellence in the delivery of 911 services.
But Tillman left the meeting immediately after presenting the certificate, leading Streit to allege that Tillman’s appearance was scripted.
“I was a little disappointed how quickly you whisked out the representative from Norcomm,” Streit told Mayor Sandra Bury.

CR hoping electronic signs end the ‘dodge ball’ games at Metra station

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Chicago Ridge officials are hoping electronic signs will prevent any mishaps as commuters cross Ridgeland Avenue after getting off the Metra trains.
Village board members on Tuesday decided in favor of the signs over the continued use of Emergency Management personnel that has for the past few months guided pedestrians safely across a busy Ridgeland Avenue.
“It was a trial thing,” said Trustee Sally Durkin. “I thought it was very effective.”
Train commuters seemed to favor the EMS personnel, who made sure they got across Ridgeland Avenue safety, Durkin said. Motorists, however, did not enjoy the addition time spent waiting for pedestrians crossed the street, she said.
But the cost to have two EMS personnel at the station exceeded $11,000 annually, leading village officials to once again try signs to prevent pedestrians from crossing Ridgeland Avenue at the wrong time.
The problem is created when pedestrians, eager to cross Ridgeland Avenue, get caught up in Ridgeland Avenue traffic that proceeds the moment the railroad gates go up, Durkin said.
Metra refused the village’s request to leave the gates down longer to hold back traffic until all pedestrians had crossed the street, she said.
Trustee Bruce Quintos, who routinely picks his wife up at the station, said the pedestrians avoiding traffic “was like dodge ball” on some nights. “Traffic is really out of control,” he said.
“I think it’s a reasonable compromise,” Mayor Chuck Tokar said.