Saturday, November 27, 2010

North Chicago residents call for minority participation on the new Cultural Center

News-Sun Staff Report Nov 8, 2010 4:02PM

Some residents are calling for more minority and female participation in the expansion project at the Greenbelt Cultural Center in North Chicago.

The $5.6 million project includes the construction of a new 18,500-square-foot building adjacent to the existing facility, which is owned and operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Waukegan resident Chris Blanks, local president of Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, said Thursday that no black or female laborers are working on the project.

“It’s an embarrassment,” Blanks said. “This is a Lake County cultural center erected and established in the name of cultural expression and diversity, but we don’t see this as far as where our tax dollars go in. This is $5 million building.”

Blanks said Thursday morning that members of his group would protest at the center Thursday afternoon.

Lake County Forest Preserve Board member Angelo Kyle of Waukegan said he was aware of Blanks’ complaints. Kyle said that he had spoken with the general contractor of the project, who said they use the workers sent to the project by the unions.

Kyle said he believes contractors could exert authority to request minority and female participation. He said he was unsure if the forest preserve district would address the matter, but added that he feels minorities need to be involved “with the influx of construction in the county” resulting from federal stimulus programs.

District Executive Director Tom Hahn said Thursday that the district has a purchasing policy that includes open bidding and the selection of the lowest responsible bidder. The district does not have a minority hiring policy included in its contract awards, he said.

Foresters ask contractors to hire more minorities

By Jim Newton Nov 11, 2010 08:50PM

Following a protest last week at which pickets pointed out the lack of diversity among construction workers at the Greenbelt Cultural Center expansion project in North Chicago, Lake County Forest Preserve District officials have asked the project’s contractors to increase minority participation.

District Executive Director Tom Hahn told the Forest Board’s Finance Committee Thursday that following the protest, he consulted with district legal counsel and was told that under state law, the district cannot force contractors to hire women and minorities, but it can request that they do so.

District officials then made that request to the $5.6 million expansion project’s construction manager and 20 contractors.

“I think we are doing all we can within the policy and laws we are covered by,” Hahn said, noting that the district already had been encouraging minority contractors to produce bids in through the Forest Preserve District’s open bidding process.

The board’s three black members, Angelo Kyle and Mary Ross Cunningham of Waukegan and Audrey Nixon of North Chicago, all said the lack of black workers at a project in the heart of a minority community was especially upsetting to residents.

“It’s in a community that’s mostly African-American,” Nixon said at Thursday’s meeting.
The committee agreed that minority and female representation should be increased in forest preserve projects in all communities, and agreed to consider looking at the qualification requirements for contractors to see if the “benchmarks” with regard to issues such as years of experience and the number of past projects are too high, a suggestion made by committee member David Stolman of Buffalo Grove.

Although construction projects are down because of the economy, Forest Board President Bonnie Thomson Carter of Ingleside said the district should continue to address the issue each year and consider legislative proposals that could give the district more leverage in boosting minority hiring.


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