CHA officials recommend demolition of historic South Side church

Chicago Housing Authority officials could okay demolition of a historic church that has sat, vacant and deteriorating, since the agency purchased it in 1993.

The 11,350 square-foot property, on 3600 S. Vincennes Ave., is part of what is known as the Madden/Wells Revitalization Area in Chicago's South Side. The former church was built in the 1870s. 

The building "has had little or no maintenance since its purchase," CHA records say.

CHA officials recommended its demolition this afternoon, during a monthly meeting of the Operations and Facilities Committee. To take down the building, the CHA's board of commissioners must approve the recommendation, then forward it to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs for final consent.

Agency spokesman Matt Aguilar could not immediately provide information on why the CHA bought the building, and why it was allowed to deteriorate.

Aguilar says that after a first request for proposals to redevelop the property failed, the authority submitted a second one to satisfy the requests of the Chicago Department of Community Development's Landmarks Division and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency , which has already approved the demolition.

Aguilar says the authority " spent resources to maintain the building over the years," while it searched for a redeveloper, but documents indicate that the property has been in serious disrepair.

Records show that several fires have weakened the structure, the sides of the front entry have burned and collapsed, and the front wall stands alone without support. The property is open to squatters and vandals, according to documents, and entire sections of a chain-link fence have been stolen.

"This is an imminently dangerous situation that mandates an immediate response," CHA staff wrote in a request to authorize the demolition. "It cannot be left in its present condition."

Committee members permitted the demolition after reluctantly approving a couple of six-figure modifications to construction work at other properties. Also known as change orders, the modifications would raise the price of previously approved projects by more than three-quarters of a million dollars.

Commissioner Michael Ivers, chairman of the Operations and Facilities Committee, discouraged CHA staff from allowing contractors to submit change orders to original cost estimates.

"This board doesn't like modifications," Ivers said, shortly before committee members unanimously approved them.

The first change order modified a $1.8 million contract approved in March for restoration work at the Caroline Hedger Apartments Senior Housing development, on 6400 N. Sheridan Road. The new contract price would be $2.2 million, about 26 percent more than originally estimated, after approval from the CHA board.

The second modification, a charge of $312,763, came after eight previous adjustments to a contract originally worth $24.1 million, for renovations at 17 buildings in the Frances Cabrini Homes. After approval of the change order, the contract would be worth $25 million, about 4 percent more than first estimated.

The committee also recommended three Illinois firms to handle laundry-room equipment and services at various CHA senior developments, endorsing extended contracts with MacGray Services Inc., Family Pride and Coinmach. According to documents, the contracts are considered revenue generating and do not involve new spending.

In a separate meeting this afternoon, members of the Tenant Services Committee recommended the renewal of two contracts to help relocate families forced to leave existing public-housing developments. The CHA's Plan for Transformation, begun in 2000, has involved the closure of several buildings for redevelopment and rehabilitation, and the ensuing transfer of thousands of families to other properties.

The two firms reapproved for relocation services were the Housing Choice Partners of Illinois Inc. and Uhlich Children's Advantage Network, also known as UCAN. Each received half a million dollars for work including lease compliance, community tours, placement and follow-up services. Both firms began their contracts with the authority in late 2008.

Committee members also recommended revisions to the coming fiscal year's Residential Lease Agreement, Pet Policy and Procedure, Admissions and Continued Occupancy Policy, and Resident's Grievance Procedure, which affects residents who lived in CHA properties in October 1999 and were forced to move because of the Plan for Transformation.

The authority is still searching for many of those residents, who have a right to return to public housing under agreements hashed out between officials and resident leaders.

Staff Writer Adrian G. Uribarri can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 12, or adrian at chitowndailynews dot org.