Drivers in the Homewood-Flossmoor area who need in-person driver services will no longer have to travel quite as far as they have for nearly a year since the Chicago Heights Secretary of State facility was rendered inoperable by a fire.
Jesse White came to Chicago Heights the morning of Monday, May 10, to announce the opening of a temporary driver services facility at Prairie State College. It officially opened for business the following day.
“We’re privileged to host Secretary of State Jesse White and the Secretary of State operations, and provide this important and timely community service,” said Thomas Saban, the college’s interim president. “It’s just wonderful to have this level of participation at Prairie State.”
The new facility, located in the college’s Prairie Center at 331 S. Coolidge St. in Chicago Heights, is scheduled to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. There, people can obtain a REAL ID driver’s license, renew their existing license or ID cards, purchase license plate stickers and apply for temporary parking placards for persons with disabilities.
“We called on this wonderful institution of learning to assist us to bring those meaningful services to the people of this wonderful community,” White said. “They stepped up to the plate.”
Repairs continue at the permanent Chicago Heights driver services facility, located at 570 W. 209th St. That building sustained significant fire damage, and the owner is working with contractors to repair the site, according to the Secretary of State. While White said he is “frustrated” with the slow progress there, he is continuing to monitor it with an aim to reopen that facility as soon as possible.
State Rep Anthony DeLuca (D-Chicago Heights) and State Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-Park Forest) hailed the opening of the temporary facility as a testament to collaborative governance, because it took the work of several offices to make it happen in what Joyce called “a short amount of time.”
“This institution really stepped up.” Joyce said. “The community really needed this facility.”
DeLuca added, “I’m so thankful to the Secretary of State’s Office. I’m so thankful to Prairie State College. You will so often hear electeds say, ‘I’m here fighting for you,’ but in all my years serving the public interest, this must be one of the best examples of government working cooperatively, efficiently, professionally and quickly to cut through all of the bureaucracy to get this facility open”
DeLuca said after the permanent facility was set on fire on May 31 of last year, “the driver service we are accustomed to came to a screeching halt.” Getting it back up and running has seen several delays, first because the renegotiation of a lease between the Secretary of State and the building owner took “quite a long time,” DeLuca explained. Construction began after that but moved slowly, facing more delays.
Last September and November, DeLuca and Joyce helped to negotiate temporary facilities at the Chicago Heights Park District facilities. At one point, they met with the construction team and thought a June reopening of the permanent facility was possible, DeLuca said.
“Unfortunately, just a couple weeks after that, we were notified of further delay in receiving some of the materials for a fire-damaged roof,” DeLuca said, calling further delay “unacceptable” for residents of the area. “We determined opening a long-term temporary facility was necessary, and here we are.”
Joyce added, “This facility had a space that really was transformed in a short amount of time. The key to what happened here was collaboration. This community is who wins today, and that’s what’s important.”
Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld and Flossmoor Mayor Michelle Nelson both attended the ribbon cutting for the temporary facility and applauded the efforts taken to open it for the residents of their villages.
“I want to commend Jesse White, Anthony DeLuca and Patrick Joyce,” Hofeld said. “They’ve been responsive to the needs of the community, and I really appreciate it. Our citizens really appreciate it, as well.”
Nelson added, “It means convenience for our residents and being able to give them better service for the things that they need. I’m very excited about this facility being open and being so close to home.”
Face masks are required at the temporary facility. Because of heavy volume and social distancing measures that limit numbers inside the building, the Secretary of State asks that people be patient and come prepared to wait in the day’s weather. But officials said the facility will help to alleviate some of the lines people were experiencing elsewhere, with roughly 350 drivers expected to come through the temporary space daily. The two major services that cannot be performed at the site are title transfers and license plates.
People also can take advantage of the services available online at cyberdriveillinois.com. They include renewing license plate stickers, obtaining duplicate driver’s licenses and ID cards, as well as renewing both for those who are eligible for online renewal.