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Thornton Reservoir to handle water excess on Chicago’s South Side Thornton Reservoir to handle water excess on Chicago’s South Side(0)

August 21, 2015


“[The current] system works well in dry weather, but in heavy rains the intercepting sewers and water reclamation plants can reach capacity and result in combined sewer overflows into the river, impairing water quality and contributing to flooding,” said Allison Fore, the public and intergovernmental affairs officer for the MWRD. “TARP is being built to capture 20.5 billion gallons of that combined sewage and store it so that it doesn’t end up in the waterways or basements.”

The Thornton reservoir, one of three reservoirs in the TARP project, is 700 feet wide by 1,400 feet long with a 300 foot depth, and holds 7.9 billion gallons.

“[Right now] I believe that this is the biggest reservoir of this kind in the United States, and maybe the world,” said Adel Awar, the project’s senior civil engineer.

To put it into perspective, this massive space could hold twelve Soldier Field’s stacked on together. It will collect water from a 91 square mile area, serving about 556,000 people south of 87th St. in Chicago, as well as in 13 of Chicagoland’s southern municipalities.

“People in the affected areas will see less pollution in the Cal Sag Channel, less flooding and basement backups, and more wildlife diversity. The reservoir won’t solve all problems but the help it will provide will be substantial,” said Fore.

The reservoir will take in water through two tunnels; a smaller one, 20 feet in diameter, will bring in stormwater from area riverways, and the other, 30 feet in diameter, will connect with the existing tunnel system to bring sewage into the storage space. Water will flow naturally into the reservoir and gates will hold the water there until dry weather conditions are reached. Then the gates will slowly open and let water flow back into the tunnels and toward the treatment plants.

“Now the flow can come easily from the tunnel to our reservoir,” Awar said. But he added that each municipality will have to make sure their tunnel systems are updated and able to send their overflow to the reservoir.

“All the municipalities, they have to do their homework to improve their system and to get a good collection system,” he said. If any municipality does not have a compatible system, “we can’t help them.”

The reservoir is a converted quarry; it was mined out by Hanson Material Service (HMS) for it’s limestone, which is used to make cement used in roadways. Once HMS finished, MWRD bought the leftover cavern and began converting it into the Thornton Reservoir. This process has included installing a “grout curtain” around the walls to ensure that the porous limestone surface does not let water escape. About one gallon of grout is inserted into the ground for every cubic foot of space, leading to a combined 150 miles of grout strips. The two tunnels also had to be dug, installed, and fortified with grout and cement.

“You have a lot of different aspects of construction, all of them under civil engineering,” Awar said of taking on the massive project. “I get sick of small buildings here and there… I told my bosses I wanted to end my career with a big civil project.”
The reservoir is the second piece of the larger three-part TARP project, which began construction in 1975 and is projected to be completely finished in 2029. The first, the Majewski Reservoir near O’Hare airport, holds 350 million gallons of water. The final piece, the McCook reservoir, will hold 10 billion gallons and become the largest reservoir in the country. At 8 billion gallons, Thornton is an impressive and impactful addition to the project and is predicted to save $40 million per year in flood damages.

The complete TARP project has been called the “largest civil engineering project on Earth,” and according to the MWRD’s website, “TARP was named by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the nation’s top Clean Water Act success stories and is serving as a model urban water management tool worldwide.”

Lincoln Park Chicago mental health facility Clayton Residential Home struggles with lack of Illinois state budget Lincoln Park Chicago mental health facility Clayton Residential Home struggles with lack of Illinois state budget(0)

August 13, 2015

2026 Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614
By: ahermans

“There’s no way that we could exist without a budget,” worried Jessica Lyke, the executive director of Clayton Residential Home, a specialized mental health and rehabilitation facility (SMHRF) for adults with mental illness.

Illinois recently entered its second month without a state budget; state lawmakers failed to approve a balanced budget before the start of the 2016 fiscal year on July 1. State funded programs like Clayton will still receive funding for the next couple months, only because the state is behind in sending payments to the facilities. But beyond that, everything is uncertain.

On Tuesday, August 4, the Illinois Senate approved a plan that would free up nearly $5 billion for various programs affected by the budget stalemate, including, among a long list of other items, SMHRFs. After some amendment, it was approved by the House on Wednesday, and must go back through the Senate before making it to Governor Rauner’s desk.

But this plan still only constitutes temporary relief for some facilities. If no permanent budget is put in place, funding to many state programs could stop altogether. If a budget is passed, there is no guarantee that Clayton will get the funding it needs. Governor Rauner’s original proposed budget would cut $82 million from the Department of Human Services’ Division on Mental Health, as well as $1.5 billion from Medicaid.

“Right now the governor wants to give us zero,” Lyke said. “He wants to cut us out of the budget.”

Clayton provides specialized programming and 24-hour care for more than 200 people with severe mental illnesses, about 5% of the mentally ill population in Illinois. Its activities encourage residents to learn about their illnesses, treatment options, and wellness. It also provides practical skills to help residents stabilize and re-enter the Chicago community. Residents have the opportunity to participate in more than 45 different groups including therapy sessions, cooking and laundry classes, and expeditions around the city.

“There’s a lot of focus here on recovery and wellness, instead of trying to focus on illness and symptoms and problems,” said Lyke.

Clayton resident Marion Gates participates in the cooking group.

“Some of the things that we provide are required by the state law,” said Lyke, including nursing, dietary, and security standards. “What Clayton does… is go well beyond what the state requires, and that obviously costs money.”

Lyke said that Clayton has six employees with clinical licenses, though the state does not require any. Their specialty programming, including the groups and activities listed above, are not specifically required by the state, but are things Lyke believes are essential to the residents’ experience at Clayton.

“Those are things that we’re very committed to keeping, but obviously if we don’t have money, those will be the things that will eventually have to go,” Lyke said.

Arnie Kanter, the senior director of external affairs for Barton Management, the parent group that oversees Clayton and several other facilities, pointed out that their care model is more cost effective than alternatives. The state pays Clayton $110 a day total, compared to the approximately $800 a day that an emergency hospitalization would cost for each patient. With this money, Clayton is able to provide much more personalized and comprehensive care than hospitalization. Other alternatives, such as nursing home placement or time in jail, also cost the state money.

“We become not only a programmatic effective facility, but also a cost effective facility,” Kanter said. “Everyone understands that folks with mental illnesses are high utilizers of services.”

Through peer and administrative support, each Clayton resident gets personalized care to match their needs and wellness goals.

“No two people with schizophrenia look alike, no two people with depression look alike,” Lyke said, adding that oftentimes residents have never had a chance to fully learn about their illness and symptoms before Clayton. “It’s really an opportunity to sit down and take that individualized approach with somebody and help them figure it out.”

The administration at Clayton and at other SMHRFs across the state are worried about whether they can continue providing these extensive services, which they see as essential, in the face of the budget impasse. In May, Clayton staff put together a YouTube video to help raise awareness for their facility, show what it means to its residents, and ask the community for help.

“I’m getting day-to-day support, I have people I can trust and turn to in times of trouble, and I average about 2 hospitalizations every 3 years now, as opposed to one every two weeks,” said Andy S., a Clayton resident, in the YouTube video.

People like Andy rely on Clayton for the support that they need to survive. If the facility shuts down, its 200 residents will have limited options. Some will wind up in nursing homes that are not equipped to care for their illnesses and where they will be a disturbance to other nursing home residents. Some will move back in with their families, who seldom have the time or know-how to support their loved ones. Others will end up on the streets, and could easily fall victim to crimes or be picked up by the police. Residents and their families are terrified of what will happen if no budget is secured for Clayton in the coming months.

“We got hundreds of letters from people, and people testified in Springfield saying ‘If it weren’t for a facility like Clayton, my loved one would be dead, my loved one would be in jail, my loved one would be dying of alcoholism or drug addiction, my loved one would be living on the streets,” Lyke said of the response Clayton got when talks first began about cutting funding for SMHRFs.

Lyke said that statements have been made year after year in the state government claiming that SMHRFs like Clayton limit the freedoms of their residents. Many of these came in 2011, after a consent decree was passed in the class action lawsuit Williams v Quinn, which essentially makes it easier for SMHRF residents to leave facilities like Clayton and re-enter their communities.

“This has been on the table for almost as long as I’ve been here,” said Lyke, who has directed Clayton for two years and before that worked as the clinical director for six years. “There were a lot of statements being made… that nobody needed to live in a place like this, and places like this should be shut down. We’re warehouses, we don’t provide any services for people, we’re just trying to make money off of people. I took that very personally.”
A Clayton resident runs the incentive store, where residents can get rewards for accomplishing certain goals or daily tasks.

Despite their intent to keep serving their residents in the face of this opposition, Clayton has already had to tighten its belt to handle the effects of the budget impasse.

“Right now we’re making small changes. We’re not cutting anybody, but we’re not hiring anybody extra. We’re looking at ways to save money in every department,” Lyke said, including finding more affordable supplies, food, activities, and outings. She said if no funding is secured, Clayton would stay open as long as possible in order to help their 200 residents find places to go. Clayton’s closing would also spell unemployment for the facility’s 125 employees.

“Clayton provides structure, and support, and safety, and supervision that is necessary,” Lyke said. “We don’t intend to shut down. We don’t want to panic people.”

Lyke said she hopes that state lawmakers will eventually see that the services Clayton and other mental health facilities provide is necessary and worth funding. In addition, she hopes that lawmakers begin to see the value in the people utilizing their facilities.

“My hope as an altruistic dreamer is that our worth and value will be recognized as an extremely important part of the continuum of care for mental health needs in Illinois,” Lyke said. “The people who live here aren’t being valued. What it is that they need, and what it is that’s going to be helpful for them is overlooked because they’re not taken seriously. They’re not seen as something that’s worth funding.”

Chicago aldermen decide on liquor moratorium lift for Devon Avenue in Roger’s Park Chicago aldermen decide on liquor moratorium lift for Devon Avenue in Roger’s Park(0)

August 6, 2015

By: FeliciaD

In an statement on Thursday, August 6 Alderman Joe Moore (49th) announced that he, Ald. Osterman (48th), and Ald. O’Connor (40th) will support the proposal to lift the liquor moratorium on Devon Avenue. Ald. Moore also stated that Ald. Osterman will also support the zoning change in order for the brew pub to be able to open. The Chicago City Council will review the proposal for final decision on September 24.

“This small brew pub will contribute greatly to the commercial revitalization that Devon is currently enjoying,” Ald. Moore said in the statement.


On Tuesday, July 28, Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), and Ald. Joe Moore (49th) held a cfrom Broadway to Ravenswood should be lifted to make way for D and G Brewing Company– a prospective brewpub– at 1221-27 W. Devon Ave.

The brewpub would be located in Ald. Osterman’s district, so he will have the final say on the necessary zoning change for the liquor moratorium lift. But the future of the “dry” area of South Devon and the issuance of future liquor licenses will require Moore and O’Connor’s support in front of the City Council.

If an ordinance to lift the alcohol ban is approved and adopted by the City Council, a new ban cannot be reinforced for one year. If agreed upon, the moratorium on liquor consumption and the selling of alcohol, called “packaged goods,” would be lifted for a year while business owners get approved for the necessary licenses and open their doors for business, and then the moratorium would be re-instated in two block increments. Because of the redrawing of the ward boundaries, all three alderman oversee sections of Devon Avenue, so any ordinance enforcement of the area is supervised by them collectively.

The owners of the proposed brewpub, Loyola grads Alex Drayer and Brittany Groot, and the owner of the property it would open on, Scott Whelan, were also in attendance at the meeting to answer questions and pitch the benefits of having the brewpub to the community.

“We were looking for places in Chicago that we thought would kind of be more open to a smaller joint where we could just exist on the local community support,” Groot explained to the community members. “And within this region, you have about 150,000 people who live here and right now you’re served by two breweries, neither of whom brew in this area.”

Osterman has been taking initiative to develop the 48th ward by working closely with small business restaurants and cafes. He has also begun projects to beautify the neighborhood, such as the streetscape project currently under construction on Argyle Street. Many see the neighborhood as a good place for a small business to succeed.

“With the development on Morse, some of the development in Andersonville, and some of the development on Broadway, we saw a lot more independent businesses and kind of one-off businesses instead of the larger chains,” Groot said.

The brewpub would be a small-scale, direct-to-customer brewery that would only serve beer made on the premises. There would be no kitchen, and no food would be served, although Groot and Drayer do plan to allow for customers to bring their own food.

Some concerns brought up by community residents included potential parking shortages and a possible increase in noise and crime near the brewpub. But Groot and Drayer, who both have backgrounds in criminal justice, assured the community that they would be working with police to prevent crime and minimize noisiness.

The owners only intend to distribute their beer to a few handpicked local bars.

“We have to go somewhere on our day off,” Groot joked.

Adoption of the ordinance is just the first step for Groot and Drayer, as the lifted moratorium would not guarantee the issuance of a liquor license. The pair must still apply for a license and be approved by the city of Chicago’s Local Liquor Control Commission. However, the Commission may consider the opinion of the aldermen and the community in his decision.

During an alderman-led vote, six of the residents present did not support  the brewpub, while over 45 residents were in favor of it.

“I think this is extremely exciting. I’m very optimistic of this development,” said 48th ward resident Matt Swentkafske. “My wife and I moved into this neighborhood five years ago because of the opportunity. Obviously there are going to be some challenges, but I see a lot of benefits economically and it’ll help our property values go up. There’s going to be a lot of benefit to revitalize the area between Broadway and Clark.”


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