Tinley Park mayor criticizes state officials, suggests possible legal action over safety issues at former mental health hospital site

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Tinley Park Mayor Michael Glotz speaks at a news conference Thursday regarding conditions at a 280-acre state-owned property in the village.

Tinley Park Mayor Michael Glotz speaks at a news conference Thursday regarding conditions at a 280-acre state-owned property in the village. (Mike Nolan / Daily Southtown)

Tinley Park Mayor Michael Glotz said Thursday his village would consider a lawsuit if state officials don’t move quickly to address environmental and public safety issues at a former state-run mental health hospital.

During a news conference near the perimeter of the 280-acre state, village officials said tainted soil, underground storage tanks, asbestos and black mold are among issues at the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center they want to see addressed.

The facility closed in 2012 and the village wants to buy the property from the state, clean it up and offer it for development. The property is northwest of the intersection of Harlem Avenue and 183rd Street.

“If they don’t take action we are going to be forced to take action ourselves,” Glotz said.

Paul O’Grady, the village’s attorney, said a lawsuit would be considered “only as a last resort” if negotiations don’t produce results.

The mayor, sworn in earlier this month after serving a term as village trustee, said the village has been stonewalled in trying to get the site maintained properly.

“We have attempted over and over again to get someone, anyone, at the state to talk to us,” he said. “We want the state to either bring it up to code or sell the property to be cleaned up.”

Tinley Park officials want the state to properly maintain the 280-acre former Tinley Park Mental Health Center at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue.

Tinley Park officials want the state to properly maintain the 280-acre former Tinley Park Mental Health Center at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue. (Mike Nolan / Daily Southtown)

The village last month issued citations for building code violations, accumulated litter and overgrown grass and weeds on the property, which is patrolled by private security. Buildings are covered in graffiti and valuable metals such as copper pipes have been stripped from buildings, Glotz said.

In a response to the violations last month, the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, which manages the property, said it is exempt from such municipal property or building codes. A message left seeking comment was not immediately returned Thursday.

An estimate made several years ago put the cost at remediating the site’s environmental issues and razing dozens of buildings on the property at $12.4 million. Glotz said Thursday he believed it would cost $15 million to “make that site development ready.”

Tinley Park’s budget for the fiscal year that began May 1 includes $7.5 million set aside to buy and remediate the property for potential redevelopment.

The state’s Rebuild Illinois capital program has also designated $15 million toward cleanup.

“No one can tell use if and when these funds will become available,” said village manager Dave Niemeyer.

In 2015, Tinley Park planned to pay the state what was then an asking price of $4.16 million for the property, but backed away from the purchase. In May 2019, the state offered to sell it to the village for $4.5 million, and the village indicated it was agreeable to that but no further discussions have been held, Niemeyer said.

“It is an eyesore and an embarrassment to the state,” he said.

He said the village was going into any negotiations on a land purchase without truly knowing the site’s value. He said the state had two appraisals of the property but has refused to turn them over to the village, and denied a request for the records under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, although the village did not appeal the denial.

The water has since been shut off and a contractor has been hired by CMS to determine the source of the leak, Niemeyer said. The line is not looped into the village’s municipal water system.

Last month, newly elected state Rep. Tim Ozinga, R-Mokena, introduced legislation that would force a sale of the property. The bill has been referred to committee. The property is not in Ozinga’s 37th District.

Glotz had harsh words for state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, who he said had initially worked to assist the village by introducing a resolution to push the sale through. The mayor said he had sent 13 emails to the legislator in recent weeks regarding the property but has not received a response.

“What has he done, or what will he do?” Glotz said.

Hastings’ office said the senator met with village officials and the village’s lobbyist in February and April to talk about the state property.

In a statement in response to the news conference, Hastings said he has “worked tirelessly” during his eight years in the Senate “to do what’s best for the village of Tinley Park, and for the future of the former Tinley Park Mental Health Center site.”

“We have now had four different mayors in Tinley Park during those eight years, and it’s disappointing that the new mayor has only been on the job a few days and now immediately goes on the attack,” Hastings was quoted in the statement.

Hastings said he secured the $15 million in the state capital bill for the site cleanup.

“I have presented several pieces of legislation and urged the Governor’s office to sell the center property, and I call on them to release the funds for the site cleanup,” the senator said in the statement.

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May 20, 2021 at 07:23PM

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