Pleasant Home to get sustainable upgrade

Grant secured to install geothermal system

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Thanks to a sizeable grant from the state of Illinois, the Park District of Oak Park (PDOP) has received necessary funding to install a geothermal heating and cooling system in the beautiful and Mills Park's historic Pleasant Home, 217 Home Ave. 

"We couldn't be happier," said Diane Stanke, the park district's marketing director.  

The installation of a geothermal system will provide more sustainable heating and cooling for the 123-year-old mansion.

"We strive to be leaders in sustainability not only in the state of Illinois, but across the country in the parks and recreation industry," said Stanke. "This is just another step forward."

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources announced the park district will receive $421,500 for the project, which is estimated to cost a total of $821,000. The funds were made available through the Illinois Public Museum Capital Grants Program.

The remaining cost will be covered by the park district's capital improvement budget. 

A National Historic Landmark, Pleasant Home was designed by George H. Maher in 1897 as a family home. The park district acquired the mansion in 1939 and it became a popular venue for community events. For many decades it also housed the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest.

Pleasant Home was opened as a museum in 1990 with the creation of the Pleasant Home Foundation. While the park district owns the property, the foundation operates the museum.

Geothermal systems consist of a network of looped pipes that extend 500 feet below ground. The pipes are filled with a liquid, similar to anti-freeze, that helps to transfer the ground temperature to the geothermal heat pump, which, in the case of Pleasant Home, will be installed in the basement. 

"This grant will certainly allow both the Pleasant Home Foundation and the park district to do so much more at Pleasant Home," said Stanke.

Due to the building's advanced age, it has no air conditioning. As such, few events and programs are held in Pleasant Home during the summer. The installation of the geothermal system will keep the building cooler in times of hot weather, allowing for more summer events and programming. 

"This is really a great project; it's very exciting," said Stanke.

The geothermal system will also keep the interior heated during winter, as well as help to preserve the building and its contents through more regulated temperature control.

"We're going to be protecting it for many, many generations to come," said Stanke.

The park district put in geothermal systems in the Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center in 2016 and in the addition at the Carrol Center in 2020 with the help of grants worth about $500,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation.

Pleasant Home will be the next to get the geothermal treatment. Oak Park-based Architectural Consulting Engineers will handle the installation of its geothermal system, which will begin next fall and is expected to take six months to complete. 

Architectural Consulting Engineers specializes in sustainable mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems for historic buildings. It is the same firm that handled the installation of the geothermal system in Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple on Lake Street in 2017.

"It's very important and very exciting that we are able to do this with the help of the state of Illinois," said Stanke.

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Reader Comments

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Barry Kamin  

Posted: November 29th, 2020 2:33 PM

As a former resident of Oak Park who left due to the never ending increases in taxes and fees, it strikes me that the State of Illinois is effectively broke and Oak Park is never shy about reaching into pockets. This expense is non-essential, non-critical and should not have been undertaken.

Mary Pikul  

Posted: November 29th, 2020 9:47 AM

Congratulations - it is terrific that the park district received a grant to cover half this cost. It is good news. I'm happy that the park district can identify themselves as being leaders in sustainability. However, this kind of designation often sends a (false) message that the Village is a leader in sustainabiltiy. It seems false to me to say we are leaders when most residents are unable to make these or similar improvements to their 100 year old homes. The designation "leaders in sustainability" should reflect village-wide examples down to its most common building -- the single family home. I do not want to take away from this good news for the park district, but I am using it as an opportunity to point out some incongruities in the Village. When the Village's website states, "Regionally, Oak Park is recognized as a leader in environmental initiatives....Visitors are invited to experience the thriving, environmentally aware community ...Enjoy the sights by accessing public transportation, riding a bicycle or walking the beautiful tree-lined streets," but you see new developments around town, are they adding to or taking away from the tree-lined streets? In the document, PlanIt Green, the Oak Park River Forest sustainability plan, access to clean water is part of the plan. But what have we done about it here? In Oak Park, MICHIGAN, they are replacing private service lines: "The City of Oak Park is committed to continue to replace these private lead service lines. We will replace these private lead service lines regardless of the lead level found." I am happy for the park district. However, I am uncomfortable with the designation "leaders in sustainability" when it is limited to these larger projects and not distributed across OP households. More , besides distributing educational materials, has to be done for private homes.

Mark Graham from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2020 9:47 PM

This is quite a luxury. A mini duct a/c system could be installed for far less. Mini duct works great and has been installed in many of the older homes in Oak Park.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: November 28th, 2020 6:22 PM

I would assume the high cost of the geothermal system relates to the reality that the Pleasant Home is a National Landmark (one of OP's four such properties including FLW Home, Unity Temple and Heurtley House). One cannot simply rig up a new AC system with exposed ductwork, knock down any walls, etc. The home's preservation has been compromised over the years by the large swings in Chicagoland weather. It is a community asset that many NFP groups have enjoyed, as well as renters. I agree that the price tag seems out of line for the present time, but we won't be in this situation for ever.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: November 27th, 2020 4:54 PM

Tom MacMillan, there will most likely be no pay back on it, although it will be comfortable. The money does come from tax payers, although the below link is something worth considering on if there is any pay back on the investment. It is about what I can assume is tax payers paying for tents for private businesses. They are using 2019 tax revenues which will not equate to 2020 so those numbers will not be generated to return back to tax payers for saving private businesses. Now on top of it, some one or some people are also considering ways to bring in more customers with tax dollars by making the tents festive. The basics are even to much for tax payers and then to add in festive decorations, it does not stop. After Christmas, you can add in more Holiday's, and even Mardi Gras, since it will still be cold. Here is the link and give it your opinion

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2020 4:24 PM

Any of the biggest mansions in town, which is the closest thing that compares to Pleasant Home, would sell for about $1.4 million. This is just AC and heat for $821k. So it seems awfully, even amazingly high. Maybe there is a big payback with paid events like weddings, huge annual utilities savings, etc. but no mention of any of that. Maybe it takes decades to just finally break even. We never get anything communicated but that they are excited and spending.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: November 27th, 2020 1:13 PM

Tom MacMillan, you know the bottom line is the money comes from tax payers. Also, I think these asks for money are placed in several months or even a year or two ahead of time and then they get approved. Sure, the money could be used to support businesses and people during a pandemic although it does not work that way, even during a World pandemic. So for those who make it through, this will be a nice improvement. I have been in the home several times and in the Summer, it does get very warm so this will be a worthwhile project. It just makes it difficult to think of any spending until this war on the virus is over

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 27th, 2020 12:06 PM

I love that building, but $800k for a heating and cooling system? No one in an any of the biggest homes in town, would spend that much on a system to heat or cool their home. The Oak Park Park District and the State of Illinois must be just rolling in dough so they can do lavish projects.

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