Metro-East News

State’s park grants for East St. Louis, Edwardsville put on hold

The tennis courts in Lincoln Park in East St. Louis are in such disrepair, they cannot be used for their intended purpose, said park district Director Irma Golliday.

So to help have them renovated, the East St. Louis Park District was one of 72 communities in the state to be awarded Open Space Land Acquisition and Development grants by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

However, money for local park projects, including in Edwardsville and East St. Louis, is now on hold indefinitely as part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s suspension of state grants for park construction.

Park districts and parks and recreation departments that were awarded grants by Quinn before he left office have received letters from the state saying those grants are now indefinitely suspended, as Rauner and the General Assembly wrestle with how to close a $1.6 billion budget gap for this fiscal year.

“Many state programs are running out of money because majority-party legislators knowingly voted for a budget that intentionally left our state with a $1.6 billion hole,” said Catherine Kelly, a Rauner spokeswoman. “The child-care assistance program is already out of state money, and state prisons soon won’t have funds to make payroll. As a result, the governor’s budget office is taking actions necessary to address the fiscal crisis that the governor inherited.”

Kelly added the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget has asked all affected communities to hold off on construction and stop incurring costs if construction has started.

State money for the East St. Louis Park District, the Edwardsville Parks and Recreation Department, and the Kingsbury Park District in Greenville are among the entities around the state that now have to wait to see if the promised money will come, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources confirmed. A little more than $26 million in OSLAD grants was awarded by Quinn in January.

East St. Louis Park District had plans to renovate its deteriorating tennis courts at Lincoln Park with the help of a $237,000 state grant.

Edwardsville was awarded $400,000 to build a new park with a splash pad, playground, picnic shelter, walking and fitness trail, and restroom and concession facility.

Kingsbury Park District has plans to carry out an $800,000 renovation of its swimming pool with a $400,000 OSLAD grant. Whether the district will move forward with the project will be a board decision, said Director of Parks and Recreation Jerry Sauerwein Jr.

Golliday said the East St. Louis Park District was set to receive a $25,000 grant from the United States Tennis Association to help pay for the renovations of the tennis courts.

The project, which the park district hoped to complete this summer, was estimated to cost about $257,000, Golliday said.

“We’re all a little nervous about it,” Golliday said.

The tennis courts are more than 50 years old and can’t be used, except for picnics, Golliday said.

Without the outside money, Golliday said, the East St. Louis Park District can’t carry out the project.

“We rely pretty heavily on these grants,” Golliday said. “We get little money (from) real estate taxes.”

An OSLAD grant was used by the park district to put in a gazebo and playground at Jones Park, Golliday said.

The district wanted to have amenities for younger children updated before updating amenities for older children and adults.

She added there were community members who were excited about the work being done, and she would expect hundreds of youngsters to use the tennis courts.

Golliday said she hopes the governor will reconsider the funding freeze.

“If we don’t get this grant, we can’t do this project, period,” she said.

Edwardsville City Administrator Tim Harr said the city is moving forward with its fundraising campaign for the $2 million spray and play park.

Even without the $400,000 OSLAD grant, the city has raised about $330,000 for the project. That figure includes a $300,000 grant from the Metro East Park and Recreation District.

The fundraising campaign had been in the works before the city was awarded the grant, but launched after Quinn’s announcement, Harr said.

Harr said the city will continue on with design of the project, and request bids for the first phase of construction. The city hopes to have the park, which would take two or three phases to complete, opened by Memorial Day of 2016.

“We’re trying to remain positive and optimistic,” Harr said. “It’s just a matter of time for things to work out in Springfield.”

This is the first time Edwardsville has solicited donations for a project. Previous fundraising efforts by other entities in Edwardsville have been successful as there are generous people in town, Harr said.

Harr said the city has met with potential donors and has distributed brochures and handouts about the project.

“We believe we have a very nice package moving forward,” Harr said. “We remain optimistic this will work out for us.”

Contact reporter Joseph Bustos at jbustos@bnd.com or 618-239-2451. Follow him on Twitter: @JoeBReporter.

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