Midway expansion ready to take off

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recently announced plans for a $248 million expansion of Midway International Airport will mean speedier trips through the security lines, and a wider choice of concessions for local travelers using the airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the wide-ranging plans last Thursday, explaining that the project will take several years to complete. This is the largest investment made in the airport in nearly 10 years, The mayor said the project will include an expansion of the concession facilities, the terminal parking garage, and security checkpoints, addressing several concerns commonly raised by travelers. 

            “Midway is more than an airport. It is an important economic engine for the city of Chicago so with this modernization we are making an essential investment in the future of Midway but also the future of Chicago. This modernization allows and ensures that Midway will remain a world-class airport in a world-class city,” said the mayor at the airport.  “These enhancements will create jobs for Chicago’s residents, provide an improved experience for travelers from the garage to the gate, and ensure that our world-class city has two world-class airports.”

            According to city officials, Midway generates approximately $7 billion in economic activity each year and 90,000 jobs for the region. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier at Midway, which serves 75 airports, including eight international locations. It is considered to be one of the fastest growing airports in the United States. 

            The project, which will not expected to be completed until 2019, is slated to begin with the city issuing a request for proposal for a single-entity concessions operator in September. Studies have found that travelers passing through Midway spend less on concessions than at other airports, and the stated aim of the improvements is to “enhance the experience for travelers, create good-paying jobs for residents and help achieve higher Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation goals.”

Following the issue of the RFP, bids would be received through mid-December, and evaluated in the first quarter of 2016. Then, if all goes according to plan, the proposal would be brought before the City Council in the second quarter of  2016.

            Plans call for renovations to be made to concessions areas, stores, and restaurants, and shopping, dining, lounge facilities, spa services, and medical services will be added. Officials said the added 20,000 sq, ft, of concession space will feature iconic Chicago brands and concepts while providing opportunities for local businesses and residents.

Expanding Midway’s security checkpoint area, with the creation of a new 80,000 sq. ft. security hall, is expected to resolve the bottleneck that frequently occurs in the current security area, frustrating travelers. Plans are also in the works to widen the existing 60-pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue from 60 feet to 300 feet, which is also inclined to get congested. 

“This is all about improving the customer experience at Midway. It is a lot more than adding concessions,” said Owen Kilmer, Chicago Department of Aviation deputy commissioner for communications. He said the airport authorities will be working the Transportation Safety Administration to coordinate the improvements to the security area.

            As for the terminal parking garage expansion, which Kilmer said is in the design phase, four levels and 1,400 parking spaces are expected to be added to the terminal garage. The added parking spaces are meant to —making it easier for travelers to get in and out of the airport. 

“Obviously, we will not do anything to infringe on flight paths,” said Kilmer, when asked about the feasibility of height being added to the parking garage.

“It is still in the design phase, but levels can be added horizontally. That is most likely how it will happen,” he said, explaining that the parking garage will be built out rather than up.

Emanuel said at the press conference that the expansion project is expected to create 1,000 construction and 700 permanent concession jobs, as well as a 50 percent increase in concession space. Revenue generated by concessions is expected to double by 2019.

“Our proposal will make Midway Airport more efficient and more customer friendly for years to come,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans said, whom Kilmer said realized the need for improvements as soon as she was named commissioner in May. “In order for our airports, and our city, to thrive we need to remain competitive—and that’s what this plan will achieve,” she said.

New Queen of Peace boss is first male principal in school history

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Hedi Belkaoui, the new principal of Queen of Peace High School, is too busy getting ready for the new school year to focus on the fact that he made history as the first man to lead the girls Catholic high school in Burbank, which was founded in 1962.

At 33, Belkaoui, a native of Chicago and graduate of St. Ignatius High School, is also among the youngest heads of the school.  He succeeds Mary Kay Nickels, who retired in June after five years at the helm.

Belkaoui has been busy working in the field of education for the past 11 years, since earning a bachelor of arts degree in social science from Benedictine University in River Forest. He also earned a masters of arts degree in education in 2009 from the university founded by the same order of nuns that sponsors Queen of Peace, the Sinsinawan Dominicans.

 “I would call them opportunities rather than challenges,” said Belkaoui, when asked about low enrollment and other issues faced by Queen of Peace. He said the school’s struggles with dwindling enrollment is a common problem for many area Catholic schools.

But he talks optimistically about turning that trend around.

“There were 325 students enrolled  at the school, last year, and we are expecting about that many this year,” he said, adding that registration is still open.

He doesn’t see being the first male principal as a challenge, and foresees no problems. Belkaoi said he was drawn to Queen of Peace, locted  at 7659 S. Linder Ave. in Burbank, because he has a strong attachment to the Sinsinawan Dominicans.

“My mother was a professor at Dominican University, and I basically grew up there. As a child, I roamed the campus, and the sisters got to be like second mothers, and aunts and grandmothers to me,” he explained.

“I have such profound respect for the Sinsinawan Dominicans. This is an opportunity to continue their mission of scholarship and social justice, providing young women with a diverse learning environment and challenging curriculum.”

 The new principal said Queen of Peace is differentiating itself by expanding its curriculum, particularly in the area of engineering. A few years ago, the school began providing all students with laptop computers, giving them access to software such as  AutoCAD, a drafting and design program.

The second year of implementing Project Lead the Way’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program is also about to start. To include the ongoing “Arts Without Borders” program, Art has also been added, making it STEAM.

PLTW, a non-profit organization, provides “rigorous and innovative STEM education curricular programs used in middle and high schools across the United States,” according to information on the Queen of Peace website.

In “Arts Without Borders,” students participate in cultural and fine arts experiences offered throughout the Chicago area. They are exposed to different disciplines, and work on quarterly project incorporating all departments and technology.

Belkaoui said PLTW students get hands-on experience, with many participating in robotics teams that compete against other schools.

“We want these young women to be able to get scholarships and make use of the opportunities, going on to universities and high-paying careers using these technology skills,” he said.

Queen of Peace added two engineering electives, supplementing the traditional math and science classes this year. Belkaoui said the school focuses on integrating the STEAM courses throughout the curriculum.

The new principal’s work experience is as diverse as the curriculum he oversees. He began his career in 2004, teaching at Morton West High School, and then Providence St. Mel, a private K-12 school in Chicago where 100 percent of seniors usually attend four-year colleges and universities. From there, he was tapped to become a dean at Providence Englewood Charter School, also in Chicago.

He and his wife, Heidy, then spent two years in Cambodia, where he was principal of the Jay Pritzker Academy in Siem Reap. Most recently, he was director of Young Scholars Kenderton, a school in North Philadelphia, Pa.

As opening day approaches, he has been busy ensuring everything is in order. “I am looking forward to the year, meeting the students and seeing them take advantage of these opportunities. That is what I am excited about,” he said. 

Tough and tender:Bouchard's award brings out two sides of a local legend

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Kirsten Bain had to wipe away tears from her eyes last Thursday afternoon after she accepted an honorary award for her late grandmother, Pat Bouchard.

Crisis Center Board President David Anders presented the award to Bain at a rededication ceremony and the tears flowed.

“I was really close with her, she spoiled us rotten,’’ Bain said.

A handful of family members – including daughters Tricia Bouchard Case and Bobbie Bain – were there and share happy memories of mom and grandma with me.

I was a bit surprised to hear of this genuine emotion from them. There some people in this area who remember Pat as being tough and opinionated. One person I talked to a few years ago referred to her as the b-word and said it admiringly.

But, yes behind all that tough guy exterior, Genevieve “Pat” Bouchard was a mother and grandmother and had her kind and tender moments that not everyone got to see. At one time she was a newspaper columnist for the Reporter and Regional and even bucked up against two others in a race for Worth mayor in 1981.

Two summers ago Bouchard died.  Before my boss at the Regional News, Jack Murray, had me write her obituary, I had no idea who she was.

When I found out that one of the many things in her full life was that she was a columnist for our papers, I thought that was a good starting point.

I figured I would crack open some old yellowed papers that her work would appear in and was ready to be underwhelmed.

See, I made the mistake of lumping Bouchard with the many columnists on weekly papers who write about their town’s garden club and little Billy turning 10 and having four friends over to the house. I have nothing against those columns and the garden club members and little Billy are thrilled to see their news in the paper. That’s what we’re here for – to try to serve as many people as we can.

But the scope of such a column is pretty narrow and those outside that town or little Billy’s house may not give it a second glance.

So, I was all set to read Pat and…well…she had a sharp wicked edge to her. And funny?

Look, I know some of my columns are out there when I talk about Julie Andrews’ breasts and exposing the dark side of June Cleaver. But this Bouchard…she wasn’t writing about the garden club or little Billy. She was writing about the Nazi club and little Adolph.

In a Sept. 4, 1986 column she had me laughing out loud.  

She highlighted an item about 92-year-old Rudolph Hess — Adolph Hitler’s right-hand man — being denied televised news and political debates in prison.

“I think Hess should be exposed to the blatherings of world politicians and to the other realities that are carried into our homes by the nightly newscasts,” she wrote. “Why should a Nazi suffer less than the rest of us?”

OK, that hooked me.

She also had the wisdom to let great quotes make her point if she couldn’t do it herself.

In another column, she found a news bit about a Rhode Island researcher who claimed that more people are likely to strike their kids than smack their dogs. So she talked to a friend who had raised five teenagers and was not exactly politically correct.
  “Sounds reasonable to me,” the unnamed friend was quoted as saying. “My dog never snitched my pantyhose or makeup, he never told my family secrets to my in-laws, never borrowed the car and got a ticket…
  “There is just no temptation to hit a loving beast who accepts you as you are … however when your darling blond daughter shows up with pink and blue hair or your son sneaks a beer out of the refrigerator … well, that’s another story.”

Priceless. Just priceless.

I wanted to read more of her and I checked out a handful of columns before I realized I better stop because Mr. Murray’s deadline for the obit was fast approaching.

But before I was done, I found a column from Sept. 25, 1988 in which she started the piece: “‘Never lower Tillie’s pants. Mother might come home. Now that I have your attention, permit me to assure you that this column is not about the sexual adventures of Tillie or any other frisky lass.”

That column was about memory improvement, by the way.

I heard she would lock horns with everyone in the office about a variety of subjects so I know she could be a spitfire and if I worked with her back in the day, I would probably have gotten into a battle royal or two with her.

So, now I have painted you a picture of someone who seems to be as hardened as pig iron.

But there was another side to her.

Her many years serving an volunteering at the Crisis Center, which started in Palos Park and is now based in Tinley Park, showed her heart was in the right place in helping to keep this shelter for abused women and kids alive for decades.

“She devoted a lot of years to this Crisis Center,” Tricia said. “She loved it and did great work here.’’

The facility went through a major facelift in the last year with improvements in just about all the living and work areas. One of the newly renovated bedrooms at the facility will be named for Pat.

“She would like this honor,” Bobbie said. “On the surface she might not say it, but deep down she would like it.

She made enemies. She pissed people off.

But she also left an impact on some lives that moved close ones to tears even two years after her death.

“She wrote an article when I was born about being a grandmother,” Kirsten said. “How did she say it? Grandparenting can be the best disease or something like that. She was a great woman.’’

Trying to fix the 'ghetto of Hickory Hills'

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


Hickory Hills City Council members tried to come up with a solution for what one resident called “the ghetto of Hickory Hills.’’

While they couldn’t come up with a concrete answer at their July 23 meeting, the city bosses tried attacking the problem from all angles and kicking all sorts of ideas around.

Joe Piccioli, of the 7800 block of West 97th Street, addressed the council during the public comment section of the meeting regarding his concerns for the safety of his family in his neighborhood because of activities going on at vacant properties and houses occupied by people not taking care of the property north of his home.

“I feel like I live in the ghetto of Hickory Hills,’’ he said. “I am worried about letting my wife go out to walk the dog. This is not my first time here to tell you about this. Something has to be done.

“I know people are breaking into these vacant houses and there is no telling what is going on inside. It is a bad situation. I call the police nearly every evening. They respond, they come quickly, but if they issue tickets, it doesn’t change anything. These people don’t care about tickets or fines. What can be done?”

Hickory Hills Attorney Vince Cainkar said ticketing the alleged offenders is all that can be done.

“The fines will just keep escalating,’’ he said. “It can be taken to court, but it won’t result in a criminal charge.”

Alderman Mike McHugh asked if the empty properties could be boarded up and Building Commissioner John Moirano said he thought they should be condemned.

Mayor Michael Howley said that all the city can do at present is to keep ticketing the property owners.

“It is sad that you have to live in this situation,’’ Howley told Piccioli.  I know you have a very nice home. I have driven down your street and the properties you are referring to are in deplorable shape.”

The council members hashed out potential solutions.

Moirano is all in favor of demolishing the buildings.

“Give me some legal direction and I will take care of it,” he said, emphatically.

 There was point where several council members were talking at once and one could be overheard asking if the fire department could use the vacant properties as a training exercise and burn them down but Cainkar said, “No, you just can’t burn properties down that way.”

Police Chief, Al Vodicka, chimed in and said, “We can try daily patrol checks.”

The Mayor commended Piccioli for his reasonable approach in asking for help.

“We will do what we can; we will be consulting with our attorney. If we can step up enforcement we will. Your alderman will keep you in the loop.” Howley said.

Piccioli, who is a union contract plumber in Chicago, asked if he could make a “citizen’s arrest” if he catches someone in the empty houses. The mayor said, “Yes, you can.”



'Unbelievably pleasant': Former Sox pitcher and EP resident Pierce fondly remembered

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


PAGE-1-Pierce Billy-02-copy

Photo courtesy of the White Sox, inset photo by Jeff Vorva

Former Evergreen Park resident Billy Pierce died Friday at age 88. Pierce’s number was retired in 1987 (inset). 




There are so many people who remember White Sox pitching legend Billy Pierce as a “great guy.’’

After he retired from baseball in 1964, the former longtime Evergreen Park resident became an ambassador for baseball and the White Sox. He showed up at so many functions and seemingly always had a smile and nice things to say to everyone he met at these affairs.

Let’s face it, it’s easy to be a “great guy” at some Hot Stove league events or banquets in which everyone is having a good time and talking about the sport they love. But if they can still be that nice on days when most men to punch a wall or kick the dog…

Pierce died on Friday in Palos Heights and later that day, Oak Lawn’s Ed McElroy, who was a radio announcer in the 1950s when Pierce and the “Go-Go” White Sox were hugely popular in Chicago, remembered a time when the lefthander had a chance to be anything but a great guy.

“The Sunday before the Sox were trying to win the pennant (in 1959) he pitched and got knocked all over the place,” McElroy said. ‘’I got a call at 10 that night about a kid who was so sick, they didn’t think he would live until Christmas and wondered if there was something we could do for him.

“I called Billy at 10:15. I told him the story. This is hours after he got killed at the ballpark that day. He said “I’ll see you there tomorrow.’ That’s Billy Pierce, you know what I mean? You don’t call a guy who gets knocked around like that, but you call Billy Pierce. He was just a beautiful person. He was unbelievably pleasant.’’

Pierce died at age 88 of gallbladder cancer and he spent 18 years in the major leagues. He was with the Sox from 1949-61.

He was one of three Chicago baseball legends to die in 2015. Sox great Minnie Minoso and Cubs legend Ernie Banks also passed this year. Banks died Jan. 23 and Minoso died on March 1.

Pierce had a career mark of 211-169 with a 3.27 ERA, He threw 193 complete games including 38 shutouts and notched 1,999 strikeouts.

But around here, he was known for more than just numbers.

“Billy lived in Evergreen Park for many years, his home was about a block from the Little League Baseball Field,’’ John Halverson of Bradley wrote on “I…remember when a kid would knock on his door and ask Billy to give him a few pointers on pitching and Billy would always come out and help him. He was always helping out whatever way he could for the Shriners Hospital for Children. What a man.’’

The Sox retired his number, 19, in 1987 but he has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 2014, the Hall of Fame’s Golden Era Committee reviewed his case but did not let him in.

Another Evergreen Park native, former major league pitcher and current White Sox radio announcer Ed Farmer, said Saturday during a pregame show that Pierce is HOF material.

“He embodied a Hall of Famer both on the field and off the field,” Farmer said. “He was the same man now as the man I met when I was 16 and you don’t see that very often.’’

Pierce, whose actual name was Walter William Pierce, is survived by his wife, Gloria (nee McCreadie) and children William Pierce, Patricia Crowley and Robert Pierce.

He was a longtime parishioner of Evergreen Park Presbyterian Church and a 33rd Degree Mason of Evergreen Park Lodge.

Visitation was scheduled for Tuesday at the Blake-Lamb Funeral Home in Oak Lawn Oak Lawn while a private funeral service for family and close friends was scheduled to be held Wednesday at Evergreen Park Presbyterian Church with the entombment at Chapel Hill Gardens South Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in memoriam of Bill Pierce's name to the Chicago Baseball Cancer Charities, P.O. Box 2865, Glenview, IL 60025.