Joliet Township acquires Forest Park Community Center for staff, services

The Forest Park Community Center, seen on June 4, at 1017 Woodruff Road, Joliet.

The Forest Park Community Center has become the latest property acquired by Joliet Township to accommodate the increase in staff and services.

The purchase of the community center building and its surrounding properties was approved by the Joliet Township board in a 3-0 vote May 7. Trustees Tanya Arias and Ray Slattery were absent for the vote.

The township board approved the purchase of the properties for $413,000 for new programs and services.

Joliet Township Supervisor Angel Contreras said acquiring the community center was necessary because the township is “growing too fast.” The township has run out of space at its current building at 175 W. Jefferson St. and its staff has more than doubled, Contreras said.

Contreras said the Forest Park Community Center will have space for the township’s behavioral health services and transportation staff. But the building will still have the food pantry as well.

“It will still be a community center and services run by the township,” Contreras said.

Bettye Gavin, a former Joliet City Council member, was the executive director of the center for more than a decade before retiring on Feb. 1. She said the board for the community center board had not chosen her replacement after she left.

“That community is close to my heart and I pray that the township will get more services up in that area,” Gavin said.

Besides the Forest Park Community Center, Joliet Township also purchased the Ozzie and Peggy Mitchell Center last year for $450,000. The building, formerly known as the Peter Claver Center, is the new home for the township’s violence prevention program called Peace Over Violence.

Contreras said the board for the Forest Park Community Center will have naming rights for building, just like the owners of the Ozzie and Peggy Mitchell Center.

Joliet Township officials have put more emphasis on providing community services and resources since new leaders were elected to the township board in 2021.

Township Clerk Alicia Morales spoke about the township’s ambitions at an April 9 meeting. She said Joliet Township is not a “status quo township” but one that identifies gaps in the community resources and offers services to fill those gaps.

“We are really rolling our sleeves up and working for our residents,” Morales said.

However, the township has not been without its controversies in the past.

Last year, the township faced raucous public backlash for pursuing an $8.6 million grant to provide services for asylum-seekers. Following the backlash, the township rescinded its application for the grant funding.

In 2022, Will County State’s Attorney’s Office sued to remove former township trustee Karl Ferrell from the board because of his past felony convictions. Contreras himself has a pending 2022 case involving a felony driving under the influence charge that may conclude July 15.