The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

The student news site of West Chicago Community High School

Wildcat Chronicle

Following remediation, City of West Chicago plans park for Kerr McGee site

Walking paths, a sensory garden and pickleball courts are all part of the vision for the once-contaminated site as the city hopes to breathe new life into the area.
Photo by Juliet Payton
Fences block off sections of the site colloquially called “Kerr McGee”. The City of West Chicago plans to transform the area into a park over a 10-year period.

West Chicago recently approved a community park plan for the Kerr-Mcgee site near the intersection of Ann St. and Wood St. which will add a playground in the area starting in 2025. 

The property of Kerr-Mcgee was once contaminated with thorium, a radioactive metal. Although the thorium was removed in November 2015, the area continues to need remediation. The final stages of remediation are ongoing now, after which, the City of West Chicago intends to add a park to the site to benefit city residents and offer a compatible aesthetic for the neighboring residential areas. 

According to plans created by Upland Design, Ltd., the large grassy area just off Wood and Ann Streets will become part of the “natural prairie area” where Illinois native species will likely be planted. (Photo by Juliet Payton)

Because the property was contaminated, and continues to be cleaned up, a park is one of the allowable future uses and we believe offers great benefits for City residents and is compatible with neighboring residential areas,” Director of Community Development Tom Dabareiner said. 

The presence of thorium dates back decades. The issue was discovered in 1976, but the Lindsay Light Co. (later Kerr-McGee), started using radioactive chemical thorium nitrate to manufacture their gaslight mantles in 1932, when the company opened a plant in West Chicago.

In 1984, clean-up at the site began. As the Wildcat Chronicle reported previously, residents started to see workers in hazmat suits testing the area surrounding Kerr-McGee. Nearly two dozen years later, the effort to rid West Chicago of thorium was ongoing. 

“There were rumors regarding the soil all being contaminated,” West Chicago alumna Jennifer Fink (‘02) said. 

Currently, West Chicago Community High School has an agreement with the city by where students are allowed to park at the site known as “Kerr McGee” during the school year. (Photo by Juliet Payton)

In August 22, the City of West Chicago announced a remediation of the groundwater would be taking place to prepare the site for its use as a future park

The money for this project will come from a number of sources.

Parks are often a combination of State or Federal grants and local tax dollars. To date, the City received a $2,000,000 grant to apply towards building a future park,” Dabareiner said. 

On Monday, September 5, 2023, the City Council approved the construction plan for the community park at the Kerr-McGee site. The current construction plan posted shows a final cost of $15 million. 

“No date is yet known, but it will likely be a minimum of a ten-year project starting in 2025,” Dabareiner said. 

The construction will take place in phases. The initial construction phase of establishing a natural planting area is expected to be completed over one to two years. After that, the following phases will include the installation of trails, parking lots, a sensory garden, a playground, a challenge course, a pickleball and tennis court, picnic pavilions, and a multi-use field

“I think it could be very good, for kids especially. Fifteen million is a lot of money, but, when you really think about it, the youths’ happiness is worth more,” West Chicago Community High School sophomore Sam Zalak said. 

Many WCCHS students use a parking lot currently situated at the Kerr-McGee site. 

Student parking on a wet Thursday in March: it is unclear how the Kerr McGee parking lot will be impacted over the next 10 years as construction commences at the site. (Photo by Juliet Payton)

According to school administrators, the city owns the Kerr-McGee parking lot. The school district along with the city have an intergovernmental agreement to allow the students to park in the lot. Despite the ten year construction plan, administrators believe students should still be able to park at the site.

We do not expect the new park to have much of an effect on student parking,” WCCHS Director of Business Services Dan Oberg said. 

However, city officials are still working out the details with regard to the impact on student parking.

At this time we have no construction phasing plans that would provide a clue as to what will happen with that parking during construction,” Dabareiner said. 

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Juliet Payton
Juliet Payton, Reporter
Despite her passion for sports communication and the hopes of being on ESPN, sophomore Juliet Payton can be described as a person who is calm and goes with the flow. She enjoys hanging out with her friends and sleeping in her free time, and is determined to make all of her dreams come true.
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