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Bones delay Blue Island stadium

Maps

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



Blue Island Park District Commissioner John Spizzirri isn’t joking when he calls the hill at Blue Island’s Memorial Park, “Curse Hill.”

Over the past year, the construction of a new stadium there has been delayed by weather, building woes and, yes, bones. Human bones.

“We didn’t find any full skeletons,” said park board president Fred Bilotto. “It’s all pieces. A femur here. A rib there.”

Construction workers discovered the bones in September while excavating for the foundation of a new football stadium at the park. When the bones were found, work stopped. That’s when officials called in an expert, Dr. Anne Grauer, a professor of anthropology at Chicago’s Loyola University. Grauer and a team of students painstakingly examined and studied the bones.

“(The students) have the skills to answer questions, the question being, ‘Was what we found human?’ ” Grauer said. “We often find bones of animals in the ground. When you plant a rose bush, you may find a bone.”

Finding bones at Memorial Park should not be too surprising, Bilotto said. After all, the land was used for a cemetery from 1850 to 1898, as noted on the park’s sign, he said.

The last burial dates back to 1898, and the land sat vacant until the park was built and eventually opened in 1937. Bones were found there in 2003 when a walking path was built.

When crews last year dug deeper into the park’s hill for “footings” for the new stadium, they uncovered the bones, Bilotto said.

Grauer and her team determined that a minimum of four coffins had been found along with 10 gravestones “representing at least five individuals.” They also found 140 “distinct human skeletal elements,” or pieces of bone, she said.

When the hill was built in the 1930s, chances are the Works Progress Administration builders “just bulldozed everything” and didn’t take time to properly relocate remains, Bilotto said.

The recovered remains are now under lock and key, stored in a wooden box, Bilotto said. They will be re-interred at the park when the stadium is finished, he said.

It’s fitting that their final resting place won’t change, said Grauer, who is impressed that Bilotto plans to have representatives of several religions on hand that day.

“It’s very respectful,” she said.

The discovery of bones was just another delay for the stadium.

Torrential rains in the spring twice washed mud into the excavation site, Spizzirri said. Each time, the mud and debris had to be cleared, he said.

Then, digging deep uncovered a groundwater problem — two sump pumps had to installed.

Now, cold weather is the latest culprit.

Rather than pay crews to sit around and wait for good weather to pour concrete, the park board decided to wait until spring, Bilotto said.

It’s hoped the stadium — with seating for 724, a concession stand, press box and wheelchair seating — will be ready for the 2011 season for the Blue Island Untouchables, a youth football organization. Memorial Park is their home field, but they played home games in 2010 at nearby Eisenhower High School, Untouchables board member Melinda Zima said.

The seemingly endless project “is a little frustrating,” said Charlotte Westcott, who lives across the street from the park.

“I thought the old stadium should have been restored because it’s more of a landmark,” she said

But, built in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration, the old stadium was crumbling, park district officials said.

Demolition began in December 2009.

The year wasn’t a total loss.

Crews have been able to install electric and sewer lines to the new stadium, Bilotto said.

However, he admitted the string of delays “have been a hassle dragging out the project.”

“We’ll start right away when the weather breaks,” he said, “but it has been frustrating because it’s something we wanted to get done by last fall.”



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