The State of Illinois has relented somewhat, in the upkeep of an abandoned facility that has become a major thorn in the side of the City of Jacksonville. But city officials say it’s not enough.
Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard says the State of Illinois Central Management Services reached out to him on Monday about issues the city has with the lack of mowing at the grounds of the former Jacksonville Developmental Center.
The nearly 100-acre plot that is bordered by areas such as Morton Avenue, Jacksonville Community Park, and the Village of South Jacksonville has not been mowed all season, save for a narrow strip around the very edge of the property, with grass now upwards of two feet tall. Ezard says he’s frustrated by the whole ordeal.
“It didn’t have to come to this. And I know we are not unique, but we are unique in a way because it’s in the center of our town. Where other facilities statewide closures are on the outskirts or away from the middle of their town, and not to mention next to our awesome Community Park. So it’s been quite frustrating dealing with the state on this.
This goes back to even when the closure was made. We tried to fight that. I think politics got in the way of that. But they closed the facility and their track record’s not good at maintaining their facilities.”
CMS officials have told Mayor Ezard they intend to mow more of the outer perimeter of the property, possibly up to the edge of the outermost buildings on the grounds, but the grounds inside the complex will not be taken care of.
Ezard says since this first became an issue this year, he, State Senator Steve McClure, and State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer have all been in constant contact with officials trying to make something happen at the grounds.
Davidsmeyer says the current state of the vacant facility is beyond disappointing, and they are still pushing on the state to see something is finally done with the grounds now and in the future.
“We’ve come up with a number of different ideas and a number of different ways even to fund opportunities to fix the ground. To get it into private hands where somebody can be paying local property taxes and benefiting from that location itself. Whether it’s a business or something of that sort. So we are certainly pushing for more.
The conversation isn’t over. I actually had another conversation yesterday with someone at CMS who actually told me they were going to mow more and I said you know I appreciate your effort, but it’s still not enough. We expect that from our citizens and we should expect that from the State of Illinois as well.”
The issue was brought up during a recent City Council Meeting as a growing concern among the group, with Mayor Ezard stating perhaps the city needs to mow the property and send the state the bill.
Ezard says the reality isn’t quite that simple, but it could be very simple for the state to correct. He says they are continuing to push for change at the JDC grounds, and it may just take getting in touch with the one right person in state management that can get something done, whoever that might be.
“If the agencies need to work together, if CMS, who manages the property, they need to get with IDOT and have the local IDOT crew go in and at this time take shredders in. Because our equipment can’t get through, our mowers can’t get through.
We can get shredders through it but, we don’t need to do that as a city. The state needs to do that, that’s their property. And any other property we send out notices to the homeowners if they don’t maintain their property, to solve it or we’ll come in. Well, we’ve done that, we’ve started the paper trail. We’ve sent letters to the Governor’s Office and CMS. So if you sense a little frustration in my voice, it sure is- frustrating.”
Until this year, Elm City of Jacksonville has won the bid each year to mow the property and Ezard says each year the possibility of only mowing the edge of the grounds was proposed and then changed at the 11th hour to include the entire property. He says when he was informed that Elm City did not win the bid, but that the verbiage was still in the contract, he was concerned the city would end up where it is with the state of the State’s property.
As of press time, no new mowing has been done at the former Jacksonville Developmental Center grounds.