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Road Work Delayed by Search for Bodies to Start Monday

 A map from 1968 shows the six-acre cemetery which could be disrupted by the rebuilding of Oak Park Avenue.
A map from 1968 shows the six-acre cemetery which could be disrupted by the rebuilding of Oak Park Avenue.
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Barry Fleig (left); DNAinfo/Heather Cherone

DUNNING — City officials will restart efforts to rebuild Oak Park Avenue Friday after a monthlong delay prompted by fears that the work could unearth thousands of bodies. The work was planned on the site of a long-forgotten Dunning cemetery that holds the remains of Chicago's poorest and sickest residents who died between 1890 and 1912.

Crews will block off Oak Park Avenue between Irving Park Road and Forest Preserve Drive to traffic Friday, and work is set to start Monday, said Ald. Nicholas Sposato (38th).

City crews used ground-penetrating radar and consulted an archeologist during the delay, officials said. The project had been scheduled to start in April.

Mike Claffey, a spokesman for the Chicago Department of Transportation, said Wednesday he could not immediately provide any information about what, if anything, crews found during their search or why the project was moving forward.

DNAinfo Chicago first reported that as many as 10,000 bodies could be buried under what is now Oak Pak Avenue in a six-acre cemetery on the grounds, based on the work of Barry Fleig, the former cemetery chairman of the Chicago Genealogical Society.

More than 2,000 babies were buried in the cemetery, Fleig said, citing county records and coroner's reports.

"This is an entire cemetery that has been forgotten about," said Fleig, who is putting together a database of about 38,000 Chicagoans buried in what is now the heart of Dunning, but was once the grounds of a Cook County poorhouse and later an asylum for the mentally ill.

Sposato said he was pleased the road project was moving forward, although he would have preferred the road be built to allow two lanes of traffic in each direction. The road will have one lane in each direction as well as a bicycle lane, he added.

"Nothing we can do about it now," Sposato said.

The area, long vacant, is poised for new life, with several projects in the works that will bring additional traffic to Oak Park Avenue, Sposato said.

Construction is underway on a $70.5 million facility on the west side of Oak Park Avenue near Irving Park Road that will house 200 veterans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease and dementia.

In addition, a $3 million multi-sport athletic field is being designed by Chicago Park District officials, which could open as soon as next summer, officials said.

In addition, city officials are expected to extend the Dunning Tax Increment Financing District for an additional 12 years to generate $60 million that could be used to build a new high school to relieve overcrowding at Taft High School.

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