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Since December 2012, the park board has had an agreement with St. John Lutheran Church to lease a slightly less than five-acre parcel of land near Caton Farm and Drauden roads. The deal costs the district just $1 per year, with an agreement that the land will eventually be deeded to the park district.
But since a new board was elected last April, some commissioners have concerns about a proposal to build a park on the property, which sits on the north end of land owned by the church, according to park district spokesman Doug Booth.
Eventually, the church, currently located at 2650 Plainfield Rd. in Joliet, plans to build a new facility at the south end of the property at Caton Farm and Drauden Road.
At the Oct. 9 park board meeting, board president Peter Hurtado and Commissioner Peter Steinys voted to give the church 60 days' notice that the park district would be terminating the lease. However, commissioners Larry Newton, Mary Ludemann and Janet Silosky voted against the measure.
Ludemann said the St. John's property will allow the park district to reach out to the currently underserved south portion of the district.
"Larry Newton and I were against [the resolution]" put forth at the Oct. 9 meeting, Ludemann said. "We want to see the park go forward." Plans call for a park with two tennis courts, an inline hockey rink, a picnic shelter and two volleyball courts (sand and rubber). She said park district officials plan to apply for grant funding to offset the cost of the project.
According to Booth, board president Peter Hurtado had concerns about the cost of the project — currently estimated to have a price tag of half a million dollars to $1 million, he said, adding that Hurtado felt that other projects, such as plans for a new administration center at Renwick Community Park, should take priority. The park district had anticipated a $550,000 grant to support the Renwick administration center, but that funding has been reallocated by the state.
Read: Plainfield Park District Missing Out on $550K Grant, Executive Director Says
Booth said other concerns stemmed from a question over the separation of church and state. "Here we have a government entity working directly with a church on a project," he said.
At the Oct. 9 meeting, however, commissioner Larry Newton pointed out that this isn't the only time the park district has worked with a church. Currently, the park district's "Music Together" program operates out of Plainfield United Methodist Church on Illinois Street.
Under the current St. John's lease agreement, either party has the right to terminate the pact after giving 60 days' notice, Booth said.
But, Booth said, the lease does not lay out a timeline for the church to deed the property to the park district. "What's to stop them from waiting until the project is 90 percent done and then giving 60 days' notice?" he said.
Booth said the lease agreement could potentially be amended to provide a specific date for the property to be turned over to the park district. But there are no current plans for such a proposal to be brought forth for a vote, he said.