Tinley Park District seeks bids for Mental Health Center cleanup, eventual demolition

The Tinley Park-Park District is advertising for bids to remove asbestos and other hazardous material from buildings on the grounds of the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center, with an eye toward repurposing the site for recreational uses.

The bidding process will be open for 30 days, and the Park District anticipates the work to begin sometime this summer.

“We are moving diligently through this cleanup process to ensure this vacant eyesore is improved for our community,” Lisa O’Donovan, a Park Board member, said in a news release announcing the advertisement for bids.

She also heads a Park District committee overseeing cleanup of the site.

The extensive cleanup project of all 280 acres is funded through $15 million in state grant money awarded to the Park District in increments as the new owners of the site.

The Park District bought the site, which also includes the former Howe Developmental Center, for $1.

Northwest of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street, the property was also coveted by the village, which saw commercial uses being ideal for the site that would produce sales tax revenue for the village.

Initial plans by the Park District call for converting 90 acres to create five baseball fields, six multipurpose athletic fields, a domed soccer field, stadium with running track, accessible playground and a pond.

It would be on part of the Howe property at the west end of the site, directly east of the Park District’s Freedom Park and Veterans Parkway.

Because it was mainly residential, the district said it is possibly among the cleanest pieces of land on the site, as far as remediation costs.

The district is working with the firm Tetra Tech, which updated a study it did for Tinley Park in 2014. At the time, the company estimated the cost to clean up any contamination and demolish structures, which number more than 45, on the property at $12.4 million.

The initial cleanup would involve removing asbestos, mold and other hazards before buildings are demolished, but the district is now accepting bids for the remediation, which could also involve removal of some contaminated soil, as well as demolishing the buildings.

Over the winter, vegetation and overgrowth on the property was cut back to provide access to roads and buildings on the site and complete the clean-up process. Crews in February safely removed three underground storage tanks that remained on the property.

Park District officials have said they expect the $15 million earmarked for cleanup and demolition will cover all the costs of prepping the site.

The state will dole out the money in increments, with the first $5 million being available initially.

Renee Cipriano, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency director from 2001-05, was hired to guide the Park District through the environmental remediation process.

Cipriano said the Park District would enter the IEPA’s voluntary remediation program, where the agency would oversee cleanup work.

The goal is to get a letter from the IEPA saying that cleanup efforts have been sufficient, and no further remediation is needed.

The district would not necessarily need a clean bill of health for the entire site in order to move ahead with redevelopment, and could get partial approval from the state to proceed on a portion of the site, according to the district.

The property was once considered a site for a combination harness racing track and casino under Illinois’ expansion of gambling, but language in the legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that approved the transfer to the Park District prevents the property from being used for gambling.