FOX 32 investigates frozen Forest Preserve watchman home

FOX 32 investigates frozen Forest Preserve watchman home

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Those who thought their house was cold this winter should wait to see what FOX 32 found in the Dan Ryan Woods near the Beverly neighborhood.

One could call it a frozen disaster that will heat up Cook County taxpayers.

From the outside the stately house at 87th Street and Beverly Avenue appears to be just fine.

But take a closer look.

Ice is squeezing out between the bricks above the door.

The windows are coated with a thick layer of frost on the inside, so thick you can't even see in.

FOX 32's Dane Placko was told by sources that the first floor ceiling has even collapsed.

The home is one of the 40 so-called "watchmen homes" owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Two weeks ago the furnace inside the unoccupied house failed.

The pipes burst and hundreds, if not thousands of gallons of water turned the inside into a giant ice cube before anyone noticed.

In a statement, a district spokesperson says, "We've shut off the water and done an initial assessment of the damage. At this point, we need to get an estimate on repair costs and make a decision as to our next step."

FOX 32 showed pictures to Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey.

"If we're gonna have an asset, let's take care of it. Even more so because these aren't our own dollars that we're spending. We're spending taxpayer dollars," Fritchey said.

In 2012 the Cook County Forest Preserve Board overhauled the watchmen house program, which for years had been providing houses on Forest Preserve property to politically-connected employees who paid just a fraction of market value rent.

In 2011 one employee was charged with growing marijuana near her forest preserve home.

Now, only 22 of the 40 watchmen houses are occupied.

The house in Beverly, which featured three bedrooms, a whirlpool bath and a full finished basement, had been sitting empty for three years.

The water and furnace were turned on because a forest preserve employee was scheduled to move in.

"Listen, I think there's a lot of people in Cook County that would love to have a home like that to live in. The fact that Cook County owns one itself and isn't using it and is now going to have to put a lot of money into it to bring it up to speed raises a lot of issues," Fritchey said.

Under reforms made a couple of years ago, the Forest Preserve employees who live in the watchmen homes now have to undergo training and be available to respond to emergencies and fires on forest preserve property.

They also pay higher rent.

No word on how much it will cost taxpayers to fix the Beverly home. However, based on what FOX 32 saw, it could run well into the six figure mark.

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