Thursday, October 06, 2005

Old Cook County Hospital Again in Jeopardy

Cook County Board President John Stroger has three basic obsessions: protecting his massive base of patronage workers' jobs in the safe harbour that is county government, raising taxes to support them, and tearing down the historic old Cook County Hospital. He may not place much of a priority on figuring out how to stop making poor people wait 8 to 12 hours or more to have their prescriptions filled at the new Cook County, which he modestly allowed to be named Stroger Hospital, but when it comes to protecting his perceived turf, he's a bulldog.

Last year, Chicago's Antunovich Associates architects created an extensive pro bono study that documented the old Cook County Hospital's viability and provided a detailed reuse plan. Stroger fired back, using pinched county funds for a $1,400,000 no-bid contract awarded to politically-connected U.S. Equities, which has now fulfilled its mission by producing a report telling Stroger exactly what he wants to hear: tear down Cook County.

The Beaux Arts building, dating from 1914, was the primary health facility for many of the city's poor. In 1983, it became the site of the city's first HIV/AIDS clinic. It's ornate terra cotta facade has been the backdrop for many of exteriors on NBC's ER television series, and the hospital also appears in the 1993 Harrison Ford film, The Fugitive.

Preservation groups like the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and Preservation Chicago have again raised the alarm. Although the County Board has so far refused to vote for demolition, the U.S. Equities report may provide cover for machine loyalists on the board to fall into line behind the increasingly embattled Stroger.

This morning the editorial page of The Chicago Tribune weighed in that "the political pedigree of the consultant study raises questions about its impartiality. When the study was announced earlier this year, we said: 'This exercise is launched with a fair amount of suspicion.' That cautionary advice still rings true today."

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