Grayslake's new Gelatin Factory Park to connect community
For 60 years, the Grayslake Gelatin Co. was the village's industrial heart and one of its main employers.
When the factory was running, Grayslake Historical Society President Charlotte Renehan said, you knew it was time to go home for supper when its whistle sounded in the evening.
"It was an important part of all our lives," said Renehan, who grew up in the village.
Now, 36 years after the fires under the company's iconic smokestack went out for good, Grayslake plans to make it a key part of the community once again.
Work has begun to turn the land into a park -- tentatively called Gelatin Factory Park -- that village officials hope will be ready for the public in time for the annual Color Aloft Balloon Festival in August.
Mayor Rhett Taylor said he initially thought it would be a nice way to expand Central Park, which is just northeast of the Grayslake Gelatin Co. land.
However, as the project evolved, Taylor said, he realized it was even more important because it will allow the village to connect Railroad Avenue, which dead-ends at the old factory site, to the road that runs through Central Park.
"It's really become of central importance," he said. "It will be connecting two features of our community -- Central Park and the village's downtown."
The plan calls for the 1,000-foot connecting road to wind its way through the new park, which the consultants said will encourage drivers to go slower and let pedestrians cross the street easier. The road will curve around what the plan calls the Smokestack Green and Garden, an oval shaped patch of grass and plants that will surround the smokestack.
The plan calls for the smokestack to be preserved and maintained.
The village board wants to complete the essential items first before thinking about other park features, Taylor said.
Along with the road, the park will have a half-mile walking or jogging path through the property. The plan also calls for more parking on Central Park Drive and construction of a 12- to 15-foot-tall hill that could be used for sledding.
Taylor said the village anticipates the cost for the park will be about $2.5 million. At the board meeting Tuesday, officials will discuss accepting a bid for around $1.2 million for much of the underground work at the site. Officials have yet to receive bids to rehab the smokestack and to build the Railroad Avenue extension, he said.
In February, the village posted a consultant's conceptual park plan that has extra features, such as a children's play area, a treehouse village and an observation tower.
"It won't be the park with all the features on the website," Taylor said. "Those are the things you can install after you get the basics done."
Richard Anderson, the chairman of the College of Lake County board whose law firm is about three blocks from the new park, said he thinks it's great that the village is improving the site.
"Grayslake is always looking forward; they weren't going to let it sit there rotting," he said.
Since the gelatin factory closed in 1982, that's what practically all the buildings on the site did. When the village bought the 10-acre site for $30,000 in 2015, the smokestack was the only salvageable structure, Taylor said. In 2016, the village paid about $543,800 to remove everything but the smokestack, which will become the centerpiece of the new park.
Renehan said she's heard it described as Grayslake's Hollywood sign, which she thinks is a wonderful way to put it.
Down the road, there may also be historical markers near the smokestack that tell the story of the gelatin company.
"I am excited about having it open this summer," Taylor said. "I think the public will have something nice to look forward to."