Forest Preserve begins repair work on frozen home - FOX 10 News |

Forest Preserve begins repair work on frozen home

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The house at the edge of the Dan Ryan Woods is one of 40 owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County as part of its controversial watchmen program.

A program that provides houses on Forest Preserve property to politically-connected employees who paid just a fraction of market value rent.

However, nobody was living there when the furnace failed, the pipes burst and hundreds of gallons of leaking water turned the inside into a sheet of ice.

SEE: FOX 32 investigates frozen Forest Preserve watchman home

Cook County workers dumped garbage cans full of ruined drywall and carpeting into a dumpster outside the stately Forest Preserve home near 87th Street and Beverly Avenue.

The furnace is finally back on, as can be seen through the windows.

However, thick frost covering the insides of the windows and columns of ice squeezing out through the bricks on the second floor is what FOX 32 found last week.

Nobody had been living in the home for three years, so when the furnace failed during a brutal cold snap no one knew the pipes had burst until they saw the ice damage.

Neighbor Michelle Silas said nothing was done until FOX 32's story last week.

"And then when you guys came out, what a difference. They removed the snow, they came in with this dumpster the other day, finally taking down the walls," Silas said. "Why they leave it sitting there? They can rent it out or sell it. You know we're paying for that."

In a statement a Forest Preserve spokesperson said: "The total repair cost is estimated at $40,000 or less. We still have not made a decision as to the long-term future of the property."

"These houses are like Old Faithful. You just know they're gonna go off at some point or another," County Commissioner, Jeff Tobolski, said.

Cook County commissioner Jeff Tobolski has long been a critic of the watchmen program, which provides low-rent housing to Forest Preserve employees in return for their getting training in fire suppression and emergency response.

Yet, nearly half the watchmen properties are now vacant and Tobolski says after years of scandal it might be time to scrap the program altogether.

"They really should be knocked down. Whether they're bequeathed to us or we acquired the land, we should just knock them down. Let it go back to its natural beauty and leave it at that," Tobolski said.

The spokesperson for the forest preserve says the $40,000 for repairs will come from the rents collected from other watchmen homes, so no direct tax money will be used.

That money will cover new insulation, drywall and plumbing. However, it's still unclear when, or if, anyone will be moving in

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