Diamond in the rough or money pit? Metra board chagrined at costs of warehouse ‘fiasco’

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Faced with insufficient storage space for materials, equipment and parts, Metra leaders hoped a former furniture warehouse in Harvey could solve their overflow problems.

Metra bought the large property at 17100 S. Halsted St. for about $7 million in October 2020. The price seemed right, the location near I-80 and I-294 was appealing, and a centralized warehouse could cut delivery times and costs with bulk purchasing, officials thought.

A few months into the purchase, heavy snow caused some warehouse walls to separate from the roof and it turned out the site had drainage issues. Currently, there are concerns the floor can’t support the weight of Metra’s heaviest items, the site needs to be rezoned, and the city won’t allow outdoor storage, staff said.

Over four years, the $7 million cost has snowballed into $17 million due to a new roof, parking lot resurfacing and other improvements.

The “fiasco,” in Metra board Chair Romayne Brown’s words, drew consternation at a May 15 board meeting.

So did estimates of $30 million to $40 million for a complete building overhaul with a stronger floor, new plumbing and electrical systems, fire and safety upgrades, insulation, and more.

  Metra’s quest for a new centralized warehouse for overflow supplies, parts and materials is bogging down. John Starks/

With Metra and other transit agencies facing a major budget shortfall in 2026, “how much is this going to cost us going forward?” asked Director Melinda Bush of Grayslake.

“(Could) we cut our losses and go somewhere else?” she asked.

Metra Director Ken Koehler of Crystal Lake called the situation “absurd.”

“I say, sell it now, get the hell out of there, and move on,” he said.

The costs seem “astronomical,” Director Joseph McMahon of Kane County said. “I hear you — we have a need to store stuff — equipment, supplies.”

But, “I want to know whether this is an appropriate use of resources or whether we should pull the plug on the project and look at something that’s more cost-effective and still meets our needs.”

Executive Director Jim Derwinski explained “this is Metra’s first purchase … of a building like this in its history.”

“We’ve purchased railroads but we’ve never purchased a used building. Absolutely in hindsight, we’ve found that our processes … have to be improved” with future real estate acquisitions, he said.

Brown read a 2020 memo to the board extolling the merits of the Harvey site.

“Tell me how (staff) proposed this memo to the board in 2020 when we didn’t even have the facts?” Brown asked. “The frustration is, every time we talk about the Harvey warehouse, it seems like we’re peeling an onion.”

The memo expressed what Metra needed and desired, Derwinski responded. “We need to clear up the shop floors, we need to secure material, we need to free up space in the storehouses.

“It looked like a great opportunity at that point in time.”

Board directors tabled the issue after a lengthy discussion.

Derwinski and his top staff are expected to give a detailed report with recommendations for next steps at the June 12 board meeting.

Gridlock alert

Lake and McHenry county drivers should expect some angst as IDOT resurfaces sections of Route 12 this summer. One segment between Spring Grove and Volo already has begun. A second starts Monday between Richmond and Spring Grove. Daytime lane closures are expected and work should wrap up in November.

Your voice

John Sutter of Mundelein was unimpressed by a recent law featured in last week’s column. It would levy $100 fines on people who stop on expressway shoulders near O’Hare as they wait to pick passengers.

“It’s already illegal,” Sutter wrote. “Repeat: It’s already illegal. From what I see, the guy pushing this is getting a lot of publicity. Accomplished.”

And, “if it’s already illegal, why isn’t the law being enforced? Not enough personnel? This action doesn’t address that.”

You should know

Registration just opened for the Active Transportation Alliance’s Bike the Drive on Sept. 1. The popular annual event on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago was attended by more than 16,500 cyclists last year. For information, go to

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