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Stroger tells plan for old hospital
$140 million rehab proposal announced

Friday, July 27, 2007
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

The historic Cook County Hospital building would be preserved and renovated as office space under a $140 million plan proposed by County Board President Todd Stroger.

The plan, introduced as an agenda item for next week's County Board meeting, could mark a turning point in the civic debate over whether to save or scrap the 93-year-old Beaux-Arts structure on Chicago's West Side.

Stroger's father, former board President John Stroger, had advocated tearing down the building as part of the construction of a new public hospital that opened in 2002. That hospital, located next door, bears John Stroger's name.

"It's a giant leap forward and something that's way overdue," said Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago. "This is the perfect reuse and something that all of the preservation organizations had been recommending."

The proposal calls for relocating the offices of doctors and administrators currently in the old nurses dormitory to the hospital building. Medical libraries and a day-care center would also be constructed and any additional space could be used by tenants recommended by the Illinois Medical District, the planning body that covers the campus andalso includes Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago.

"Adaptive reuse of old CCH by the county will allow the county to restore the detailed Beaux-Arts style facade that makes the building unique, thereby retaining the building as a testimonial to the significant contributions Cook County has made to the medical profession, care of the indigent and as an architectural treasure," the county's capital planning division said in its proposal.

Bruce Washington, the county's capital planning director, said many details have yet to be worked out -- including who should pay the estimated $140 million cost. The county is exploring whether it should maintain ownership of the building or sell it to a developer who would pay for the renovation and lease space back to the county.

"President Stroger is committed to this proposal," Washington said. "He asked me move to move aggressively in presenting and preparing a plan. We have done that. [Now], we expect to be moving at a pretty fast pace."

Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), an advocate for keeping the building, said the county has money available in old bonded debt accounts that could get the work started.

"It's a good plan," Suffredin said. "I think this has great potential."

The plan calls for tearing down the old nurses dormitory at 1900 W. Polk St., which Fine said was a fair compromise.

"It's a nice building but it's no Cook County Hospital," Fine said of the dorm. "This is a trade-off you have to make."

David Bahlman, president of Landmarks Illinois, said they are pleased with the reuse plan. But they have raised concerns with the Stroger administration about securing the integrity of the hospital building when the four wings that jut from its rear are removed.

In a compromise with John Stroger in November 2005, the County Board agreed to allow demolition of the wings, which were built after the main facade, to expand a parking garage.

"We've worked too hard for too long to have a problem now with the building being open and vandalized, and pipes bursting and no fire suppression system if there is a fire," Bahlman said. "On the surface, it looks good and we're pleased, but there are details that have to be answered."

Washington said appropriate measures would be taken to preserve the main building.



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