Residents living near the Des Plaines River are one step closer to flood relief as construction of the Heritage Park Flood Control Facility gets under way this year.
The $38 million project will be mostly funded by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and not only help alleviate flooding in the suburbs, but bring a major update to the park for Wheeling residents.
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Construction on Heritage Park, a nearly 100-acre area south of Dundee Road, is scheduled to start by April said Larry Raffel, superintendent of planning for the Wheeling Park District.
The water district will fund $33 million of the project, which includes building seven basins in the park to house stormwater runoff from the Des Plaines River, officials said.
"We're been waiting a long time for this part of the flood relief program to be completed," said Marty Moylan, mayor of Des Plaines.
The project has been in the works for more than 20 years and works together with the $28 million Levee 37 along the west side of the Des Plaines River Road south of Wheeling, which is already completed, except for a 600-foot area.
"When you squeeze the river by putting a wall up, you actually raise the height of the flood," said Jeff Wulbecker, city engineer for Mount Prospect, explaining that the water detention basins upstream at Heritage Park will compensate for those rising waters.
After the Heritage Park project is completed, the Army Corps of Engineers will fill in the remaining 600 feet of the levee along the Des Plaines River, hopefully in early 2014, said John Murray, an engineer with MWRD.
According to the water district, the levee will help alleviate flooding for 393 single-family homes, 54 muli-family homes and 25 commercial areas over 254 acres of land.
"We're thrilled," Wulbecker said of the plan's progress. "We're very excited about this project."
While downstream communities are excited about the progress on a project to prevent flooding, for Wheeling officials, the excitement is over how the Wheeling park will be transformed, with a new athletic complex with four artificial turf fields, three for baseball and another for football or soccer.
There also will be a new concession building with restrooms, a band shell with natural amphitheater seating, and a pavilion overlooking Lake Heritage.
A Wolf Road entrance, more convenient parking, walking paths looping the entire park, a new playground and basketball and tennis courts will also be added.
Bids for MWRD's portion, approximately $33 million, are scheduled to be opened on Jan. 24. The park district will go out for bid for their additional $5 million in work later in 2012, Raffel said.
While the MWRD will pay for the flood control, construction and some recreation aspects of the redesign, the park district will be picking up the tab for extras, such as artificial surfacing on the fields.
"The park district is getting $13 million worth of recreational components basically free," Raffel said.
Plans for this project have been in the works since at least 2007 after an earlier effort to place water detention in land owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District fell through. Residents have been involved in the planning process and through an advisory committee to keep their vision in mind.
"I'm very confident and excited," Raffel said. "This will be a major benefit to the entire community."
Once renovations are complete, by December 2013, the park will host athletic events and maybe even a summer concert series under the new band shell, he said.
During construction the park will be closed, but the community recreation center and aquatic center will remain open. Other activities will be moved to various park district locations, Raffel said.
Other park districts considering such a big project typically would have to seek taxpayer approval of a tax increase, Raffel said. But because the improvements are linked to spending on the flood control project, "we were fortunate enough that we were able to move forward with this."