By Igor Studenkov
For the Bugle
Village of Niles trustee and former Niles Park District Executive Director Joe LoVerde got choked up a few times as he thanked the park officials for naming Niles’ newest recreational center in his honor.
The park district held a grand opening of the new LoVerde Sports & Recreation Center on Nov. 4 at 10:15 a.m. It includes two indoor basketball courts, an indoor soccer field complete with artificial turf, a dance studio and a currently unused multipurpose children’s activity room. The new facility will allow the park district to expand some of its athletic programs and operate them in the property it owns instead of renting outside facilities.
As previously reported by the Bugle, the 7847 Caldwell Avenue building went through a number of uses over the last few decades. The Niles Park District acquired it in 2015. It was discovered that, while the underlying structure and some of the foundation was sound, the building surfaces and interiors deteriorated so badly that it was cheaper to replace them.
According to a poster in the lobby during the grand opening, because the building wasn’t built from scratch contractor Wight & Company, which handled both the design and construction, saved $4 million. Wight & Company was able to recycle 1,460 tons of brick and block and 112 tons of steel iron. The building incorporated environmentally friendly features such as LED interior lighting, LED parking lot lighting with sensors that adjust brightness based on natural light, rain gardens and water filtration areas and “water efficient toilets and urinals.”
While there was some discussion of adding concession areas during the planning process, the park district ultimately decided against it. Instead, a snack vending machine, two beverage vending machines and a coffee dispenser were put in the northeastern side of the front lobby.
During the planning process, the facility was called Caldwell Recreation Center. But in March, the park district invited Niles residents to suggest names. On April 18, the Niles Park District Board of Commissioners voted to name it after LoVerde.
He was appointed as the parks’ Executive Director in 1997. As his successor, Tom Elenz, noted during the opening ceremony, during LoVerde’s tenure, the park district added and expanded a number of facilities, acquiring what would become Golf View Recreational Center, the revamp of Oasis Fun Center, the revamp and expansion of IceLand Skate indoor and outdoor ice skating complex and the construction of Washington Terrace Park skate park. LoVerde retired from the position in September 2016.
The center opened in Oct. 21, but the ribbon-cutting wasn’t held until two weeks later. The rainy weather forced the ceremony to move inside, but it didn’t stop a large number of residents from joining park employees, current and former commissioners, most village trustees, Illinois State Representative John D’Amico (D-15) and other officials to mark the occasion. All of LoVerde’s family – save for one of his daughters, who had an unexpected work commitment – was in attendance as well.
Elenz was the first to speak, praising the park board, Wight, the staff and everyone who made the building happen.
“Making this building a reality took a lot of planning, dedication and teamwork,” he reflected. “I want to thank everyone on the park district staff. It is because of your dedication that we were able to bring Niles another great building.”
Pat Byrne, the current park board president, said he was impressed with how the facility turned out.
“As commissioners, we don’t get a lot of ‘wow’ moments, but wow!” he said. “Looking at today, it’s such a tremendous facility.”
Byrne thanked everyone involved, reserving special thanks for LoVerde.
Before the former director spoke, Elenz gave an introductory speech, describing LoVerde as someone who changed every aspect of the park district for the better.
“[In 1997] Park Board of Commissioners, they decided to do something no other park district has done before,” Elenz said. “They decided to hire someone who had no park district experience whatsoever. They knew his business experience and his ability to lead made him perfect for this position.”
He also praised LoVerde as a person.
“His character shown a man who was caring, dependable, trustworthy and honest,” Elenz said. “I can’t think of a better tribute then naming the park district’s largest facility in his honor.”
LoVerde began his speech by addressing the weather.
“First of all, if you’re Italian, you know that if it rains, it’s good luck,” he said.
He said that the facility’s name was an honor for the entire LoVerde family.
“I’m not sure I can express in words how grateful I am,” he said.
He thanked “from the bottom of [his] heart” all of the commissioners past and present, the village staff and elected officials, Morton Grove elected officials, Wight officials and the park district employees.
“Thank you each and every employee of the park district – because of your heard work and dedication, we’re here today.”
Trustee John Jekot, who also serves as the executive director of Golf Maine Park District, which serves northern end of Niles and portions of unincorporated Maine Township, told the Bugle that he was impressed with the facility.
“It’s going to benefit the community as a whole, whenever on my end of Niles or [Niles Park District’s],” he said. “Because of the climate we live in, we can never have enough indoor facilities.”