Each day, a major sports complex in downtown Rockford gets closer to finally opening. Renovations are ongoing, but what you may not know is it took years of work and money just to start the construction process.
Looking at the future UW-Health Sports Factory in downtown Rockford now, it's nearly impossible to tell that at one point, it was a blighted building in desperate need of environmental cleanup.
"It was definitely contaminated," says Fehr Graham Principal & Rockford Branch Manager Joe Zirkle.
That's what local environmental and engineering company Fehr Graham discovered a decade ago, when the city hired the firm to do the cleanup. Engineers found high levels of oil, lead and other contaminants.
"Pretty common impact to find on any industrial area," Zirkle adds.
Reducing all of that down to safe levels was no easy task. The cleanup itself took months and many dollars. That's where City of Rockford Planning Administrator Wayne Dust comes in.
"We've demonstrated the need. We've been successful and the U.S. EPA has been very helpful in letting us know when this funding is available," Dust says.
After filling out pages of grant applications since 2003, Dust has gotten nearly $2 million in U.S. EPA funding to clean the site and keep it above the floodplain along the Rock River.
"We literally had to raise the floor slab up 21 inches," he explains.
The facility is expected to lift up Rockford's economy as well, it's big news for the community that's now in the national spotlight: the facility is featured in the magazine Renewal & Redevelopment's January issue. Zirkle says collaboration has been key in making this building what it is today. He hopes that can inspire others.
"Sharing things, because that might help other communities and spur some things for them."
Engineers and city staff members are waiting for the final piece of the puzzle, a letter from the EPA approving their cleanup efforts, which they're expecting to get when the sports factory opens in June.