STATE’S BRO­KEN PROM­ISE TO VETS

Vet­er­ans home on Chicago’s North­west Side sits un­fin­ished and aban­doned, a vic­tim of Illi­nois’ dys­func­tional gov­ern­ment

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - MARK BROWN RE­PORTS,

Ane­glected five- story skele­ton of a build­ing on the city’s North­west Side looks al­most ex­actly like it did when I last vis­ited two years ago, ex­cept for the weeds be­ing taller and the tem­po­rary braces rustier.

By now, this was sup­posed to be a new Illi­nois Vet­er­ans Home, the first to be lo­cated in the Chicago area where the largest con­cen­tra­tion of the state’s vet­er­ans re­side.

In­stead, it re­mains a sad brick- and- con­crete sym­bol of the dys­func­tion in Illi­nois gov­ern­ment.

Gov. Bruce Rauner halted con­struc­tion on the project in July 2015 in the early stages of his state bud­get fight with Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors.

And that’s ex­actly how the aban­doned struc­ture re­mains 29 months later, open and ex­posed to the el­e­ments of what will soon be its third win­ter.

Vet­er­ans Day seems like a par­tic­u­larly good time to take note of the fact that an­other con­struc­tion sea­son has come and gone with this long­promised fa­cil­ity no closer to be­ing ready to serve the vet­er­ans who need it.

It’s an out­rage, when you get right down to it, and I thank vet­er­ans’ ad­vo­cate Joe Bazil for bring­ing the mat­ter to my at­ten­tion.

I’d lost track of the project since writ­ing about it in Jan­uary 2016 when the work stop­page was a rel­a­tively new prob­lem.

I would have never guessed back then that any­one would have al­lowed the sit­u­a­tion to fes­ter so long.

Surely, given all the lip ser­vice that politi­cians are al­ways pay­ing to their con­cern for vet­er­ans, some­body would have put it on their pri­or­ity list de­spite the state’s fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

In fact, I’d as­sumed work had re­sumed and was near­ing com­ple­tion by now.

Rather, the project finds it­self in the land of Wait Un­til Next Year.

A spokes­woman for the state Cap­i­tal De­vel­op­ment Board said the agency is now try­ing to ad­dress un­spec­i­fied “engi­neer­ing is­sues” iden­ti­fied when it tried to restart the project. Sub­stan­tial com­ple­tion of the fa­cil­ity is now pro­jected for mid- 2019, she said.

Bazil, who spent three years in the Army be­fore a ca­reer in the U. S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs, is among those who have been clam­or­ing for such a fa­cil­ity for a decade.

Bazil said his out­reach work at the VA of­ten put him in con­tact with fam­i­lies of Chicago area vet­er­ans look­ing for a spe­cial­ized nurs­ing home- type set­ting for their loved ones.

Illi­nois op­er­ates four res­i­den­tial vet­er­ans homes that pro­vide long- term skilled nurs­ing care, but the clos­est is in Man­teno, which cur­rently has a three- month wait­ing list. The Chicago fa­cil­ity was sup­posed to bridge that ge­o­graphic gap.

I have never heard any­one ar­gue the project is not needed.

What Rauner has said is that the state couldn’t af­ford to fin­ish the project and open the fa­cil­ity dur­ing its bud­get dif­fi­cul­ties.

Bazil just wants to know what’s tak­ing so long.

“I’m not mak­ing this a Repub­li­can or a Demo­crat thing,” he said. “We just need our politi­cians to fig­ure it out and get it done.”

The new 200- bed fa­cil­ity, which will in­clude a wing for Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia pa­tients, is be­ing built on state prop­erty along­side the Chicago Read Men­tal Health Cen­ter in the 4200 block of North Oak Park Av­enue.

Former Gov. Pat Quinn an­nounced the project in late 2009 but didn’t break ground un­til Septem­ber 2014 in the midst of his los­ing re- elec­tion cam­paign.

The Cap­i­tal De­vel­op­ment Board spokes­woman said work­ers are cur­rently back on site mak­ing fixes to the build­ing’s foun­da­tion. I’ll take her word for it, but no­body was there when I vis­ited Wed­nes­day.

She also said con­trac­tors also will be on­site this win­ter, pri­mar­ily do­ing in­te­rior work, which would be a pleas­ant sur­prise.

“There should be a lot of ac­tiv­ity by spring, they’re telling me,” said state Sen. John Mul­roe, a Chicago Demo­crat who sup­ports the project.

Op­ti­mism is good. What might work bet­ter is for ev­ery state politi­cian who ap­pears at a Vet­er­ans Day event this week­end to be called upon to ex­plain ex­actly what they’re do­ing to make sure this gets done.

Surely, given all the lip ser­vice that politi­cians are al­ways pay­ing to their con­cern for vet­er­ans, some­body would have put it on their pri­or­ity list de­spite the state’s fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties.

Vet­er­ans ad­vo­cate Joe Bazil wants to know when the state will com­plete con­struc­tion on this Illi­nois Vet­er­ans Home. MARK BROWN/ SUN- TIMES

MARK BROWN/ SUN- TIMES

Vet­er­ans ad­vo­cate Joe Bazil wants to know when the state will com­plete con­struc­tion on this Illi­nois Vet­er­ans Home.

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