Plans for new Palos Hills public works building are back in play

  • Written by Michael Gilbert

Nearly two decades ago a now out-of-business architectural firm created design plans for a new public works facility in Palos Hills.

The plans, which are 17 years old, remain tacked to an office wall at City Hall, providing a constant reminder of a project put on hold because of other needs in the city.

However, that may soon change.

During Mayor Gerald Bennett’s first report of 2018 he indicated the project is not only back on the front burner but also may go out for bid within the next few months.    

“I believe that we can do it this year,” Bennett told the city council during a committee-of-the-whole meeting Jan. 4. “The plans are pretty much developed other than to [officially] finalize it and put together a bid document.”

Bennett asked Paul Hardison, the city’s building commissioner and an architect by trade, to review the plans. If all checked out, Bennett said he hoped to come back to the council with a cost estimate and bid timeline “within a few months.”  

“Everything down to the internal layout and the room sizes has already been determined,” Bennett said. “We just need to get an updated price estimate and from there we can write the specs and go to bid.”

The exact square footage of the building proposed on the 40-acre lot at 7800 W. 108th St. was not immediately available, but Bennett said it would house all the public works staff as well as the department’s 30-plus vehicles. A conference room, lunch room and shower facility — all amenities not included at the current public works facility at 9742 S. 89th Ave. — are proposed in the plans. Space to store road salt and gravel is also planned for the new building.

The public works commissioner operates out of City Hall while the superintendent and the rest of the staff are located at the public works building. With inadequate storage space at the public works building, some vehicles and materials are stored at the Kuecher Farms property near Moraine Valley Community College and the city’s municipal golf course.

“We spend hundreds of hours each year shuttling vehicles back and forth,” said public works commissioner Nick Oeffling, alluding to the lack of storage space.

Bennett said it is important for “all of Public Works to be under one roof.”

“We have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in that equipment and it needs to be inside,” Bennett said. “Most of our vehicles are outside and [our employees] have to jump into those things and in the cold weather the hydraulics can break. You get better life out of vehicles stored inside.”

Having all staff and equipment in one place and indoors will also help with response times, Oeffling added.

“Right now we have vehicles at three different places,” he said. “A lot of that equipment is not made to be kept outside.”

The city has owned the land earmarked for the building since the 1990s. Bennett said a developer once wanted the property to erect a 230-unit condo development, a plan that was not well received by a majority of the residents in the area.

“The residents were obviously up in arms over it so after some back and forth [with the developer] we made a commitment to buy the property.”

Money from the city’s sewer and water fund as well as the reserve fund would cover the cost of the project, Bennett said. With various other projects to complete as well as the economic downtown a few years ago, money was not previously available, he said.

“We obviously wanted to do this a long time ago but it was a money thing,” Bennett said. “We had some infrastructure to fix in town that took priority.

“This would be the last major city project to complete.”